Can We Comfort the Children that Remain? (Initial Thoughts on the Newtown Carnage)
Normally I reserve my blog to content that is exclusive to material related to C.S. Lewis. While I do share a quote from Lewis, this posting is more general than specific to the intent of this blog.
The sadness felt from the news of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School is difficult to describe. The emotion of outrage that someone would murder so many people that included a majority of small children is equally tough to put into words. Yet the biggest challenge that remains is talking to the young kids that remain who were directly or indirectly affected by this catastrophe. As a person who works professionally in counseling that includes working with children I will attempt to put together some tentative thoughts for consideration when speaking to youngsters.
I must begin by stating that these words are not meant for those directly involved on the scene, that is, those living in Connecticut where it happened. While some of what I will say will be useful to those adults, their immediate goal is to in a sense “grieve with those who grieve.” Thus, the process of mourning the loss of those they knew and loved is the top priority.
My aim then is to focus on what can be said to other children who are aware of the tragic events. How can you comfort and assure them of their safety? This something that, in a way, can’t actually be done. That is, first of all, it isn’t a “one-time” action. But, in another way, it is also something you ultimately can’t do.
What do I mean? As an adult you can make all the appropriate efforts to assure a child of their safety, but in the end you can’t make anyone feel safe. Notice I used the word “appropriate.” This meaning works in both directions; you can do both too little and too much in this area. It is beyond the scope of this collection of initial thoughts to detail either end; I merely point out (what may be obvious to some) that both extremes are possible.
Cutting to the chase, for me, all these issues brings one to the unavoidable topic of death. There are many other places you can find specific information about age-appropriate advice on speaking to children about end of life issues. However, even once you learn those facts it likely does not help you within yourself to cope with this difficult topic.
C.S. Lewis once wrote in the essay Hamlet: The Prince or the Poem:”
Any serious attention to the state of being dead, unless it is limited by some definite religious or anti-religious doctrine, must, I suppose, paralyse the will by introducing infinite uncertainties and rendering all motives inadequate. Being dead is the unknown x in our sum. Unless you ignore it or else give it a value, you can get no answer.
Death is unavoidable for all of us. Your view of it ultimately influences how you live. Unfortunately many who believe in the Christian faith don’t live as though they believe in what the Bible says on the subject. Most live (and I still do this at times myself) as if they believed this life is all there is. But it doesn’t make our lives any less valuable to truly believe that THIS life is NOT all there is…the afterlife is a very real and hopeful truth.
So, what can be said to comfort children in difficult times as these? There are no easy answers, which I say at the risk of already sounding like I’ve given some. Thus, instead of being able to offer specific advice, I offer a challenge to all of us as adults to have a better grasp of what we believe. Living with a belief in Heaven should mean that we know this is a fallen world where bad things can happen to any of us, but take hope, this life is not all there is!
Finally I offer three additional items. The first is a video of a song called “Life is Hard” by Pam Thum. The second is an article by someone I received training from outside of my formal degree. An article by Dr. Richard D. Dobbins entitled, “When Bad Things Happen To Good People.” Finally, I share a link that I’ve noticed has had many visitors since the news of the events in Connecticut, a posting where I shared C.S. Lewis’s general views on pain and tragedy.
Life is Hard Video (Pam Thum)