Grief and healing go hand in hand

It’s been 30 days. Thirty days since my former school, my friends and my community were transformed by one single act of unimaginable violence. The shooting at Umpqua Community College left not only death and physical destruction behind, but also fear and pain and anger in those who must now pick up the pieces and rebuild their lives and their community in its wake. Clearly, the healing process grinds slow, taking its sweet time as it does its subtle magic.

My suffering has been deeply internal, as I struggle to quietly get through my schoolwork here at Portland State while offering whatever help I can to my friends and community back home. During this process, I’ve been told several times by several people that I must “get over it” and that I should “let it go” and move on with my life. To be blunt, this is crap, and those who suggest such things should feel deeply ashamed of themselves.

The grieving process is intensely personal, and one that should not suffer judgment by others. Moving at our own pace, processing traumatic events in a way that is healthy for each individual, is what is needed—not condescending lectures by those who have no connection or experience with painful events. Maybe we need to eat chocolate for breakfast and binge-watch Bugs Bunny cartoons. Maybe professional counseling is in order. Maybe…maybe it just takes time. Lots and lots of time. But whatever it takes, the process is individual, unique and one that needs to be allowed to happen without interference.

It’s clear I’m not alone in this. On a campus of around 30,000 students with daily barrages from various venues of outrage, both personal and recreational, I think it’s important to realize that each of us internalizes and reacts to offenses against us in different ways. Do we ask a cancer survivor if they’ve “put it behind them”? (Pro tip: Don’t ever do that.) Do we ask people who’ve lost close loved ones if they’ve “gotten over it”? (Don’t do that either.) Certainly not. There is no expiration date on the healing process. It’s a road map, a journey with no specific route and, for many, no specific destination. Progress will be made, lost, gained again. There is no right way to grieve and heal, and there is no right time frame in which to accomplish it.

It’s vital that we understand the suffering of others, to empathize with their struggles. To openly admit that it’s OK to feel pain, fear, anxiety, hopelessness, anger or all of the above. We need to understand that to tell someone to “get over it,” that “you’re overreacting,” that “it’s not that bad,” is counterproductive and likely even harmful.

We all have struggles, both obvious and subtle. To accept that fact, to accept our fellow humans without judgment or scorn, is a vital piece of what makes us social animals. Whether it’s a friend struggling with midterm anxiety, stresses about housing or any other fear or worry, we need to accept that and simply be there for them without judgment.