When horror strikes, when unfathomable national tragedies like 9/11, Virginia Tech, Columbine, The Dark Knight Rises shooting, Newtown, The Boston Marathon bombings take their place in the national consciousness, when these really horrible things happen, there is no avoiding the fact that each and every one of us will have to process what happened in some way. We each have to rework our understanding of the world to incorporate these horrible acts, the devastating losses, the sense of that we are losing control, the recognition that we never had control to begin with.

Everybody processes these things differently. Many people watch constant coverage, they read things online and share them via social media. Within hours of the news breaking, inspirational memes are plastering our Facebook feeds and Twitter streams. If you are plugged into any kind of external news source, you can’t really get away from them.

Digesting all of that coverage is how some people process these things.

But some of us do not deal well with tragedy that way.

I don’t like to immerse myself in coverage of horrible things. I don’t watch newscasts or listen to radio shows or podcasts. I don’t share inspirational memes. I don’t write posts processing how it makes me feel. When things like the Boston Marathon bombings happen, I shut down. I do not think about it. I don’t seek out information and I don’t engage in places where that information is beings shared.

I used to think that made me an asshole, a freak, social deviant, but now I realize, it’s just makes me me. I don’t process things the way a lot of people process them. I can’t talk about it a lot. I can’t think about it a lot. It comes up, in my mind, here and there over several days, weeks, maybe even months. I shed tears when I’m moved to and I don’t when I’m not. And at the end I, like every one else, incorporate the horrible tragedy into my understanding of the world. I make it a part of my reality.

I spent a lot of yesterday stressing out about my upcoming NT scan, obsessively googling the probability of having a child with Down Syndrome at my maternal age, the positives and negatives of tests which don’t diagnosis but only delineate probabilities. I spent most of my free time–the time I wasn’t standing in front of a class full of students trying to fill 55 minutes with productive learning experiences–having my own silent panic attacks about the possible fate of this life inside me. I felt like such an self-obsessed douche bag for doing that, but upon further reflection, I realize it’s just how I process the feeling of being out of control that something like yesterday’s bombing provokes in me. I don’t know how else to process an event so horrible. So I don’t. And instead, I internalize the feelings of chaos and loss and tragedy into something more familiar, something I’m highly versed at, like freaking out about this pregnancy.

In the wake of a horrible tragedy, I often wonder what the proper etiquette is understood to be, especially when it concerns social media. Is it appropriate to put up any random post about me and my life on the day after a national tragedy? My gut instinct says no, and yet I’m SO THANKFUL to see posts like that in my reader from other bloggers because I want to get away from it all, and it makes me uncomfortable to read the posts where other people are processing their grief. It’s not that I judge people who do post about these things, but since I don’t process grief that way, it’s hard for me to witness other people doing so. And for that reason I really appreciate the posts about whatever else is going on for people, the posts that don’t mention what happened in Boston. It’s not that I’m trying to ignore it, or pretend it never happened. I could never do that. People died. People’s lives were forever altered. But I don’t know how to honor their loss in a public way. It’s just not what feels right for me and my heart.

So do I write about my own panic concerning the upcoming NT scan? Do I post a cute picture of my daughter on Facebook? I chose not to put up the post yesterday but I did post the picture on Facebook, because at that moment I needed to focus on my beautiful, innocent daughter dressed like a chef for cooking day. It was just what I needed to do right then.

And I’m sure there are people who thought I was an asshole for doing that. But I don’t really care. Or better said, i don’t share their judgement of me. Because we all process tragedy and grief differently, and the last thing any of us should be doing is judging others–or ourselves–for how somebody needs to work through their grief.

9 responses

  1. I am like you, I don’t feel comfortable reading people’s posts about how they’re processing their grief over a national tragedy. It makes me uncomfortable, and I’m not sure why.

    We didn’t know about the Boston bombings until late in the evening. We’re on vacation and not tethered to our phones or TV. So I was an asshole with you, posting cute pictures of my kid to FB.

    Sent from my Windows Phone ________________________________

  2. Thank you for posting this and being brave enough to say it. I think about the marathon tragedy often. Every morning I drive into work and I see the Boston skyline with some of the buildings that were on lockdown after the explosions. Yesterday at J’s daycare I spoke with another mom who works at one of the hospitals that took many of the injured. But, I believe that it is pointless to put our own lives on hold in times like this. I still have bills to pay, children to raise, a job I’m constantly rushing to get to on time. A national tragedy doesn’t change that. And I think that’s okay. It’s okay to talk about other things, to post about other things online. I’m glad you expressed how you feel.

  3. Taking a moment is OK to reflect on the tragedy, but holding on to it isn’t good for me. I pray for those affected by it, but I have to give my daughter my 100% and if I’m focused on the what ifs and what happened, I can’t do that. This is a great post! Thanks for posting!

  4. MANY MANY therapists say it is better to turn off the constant media of tragedy & fear and remember the flowers of miracles and joy. THANK YOU for adding to sanity as opposed to obsession and fear. Focusing on life is good for us all … even those who weep.

  5. I haven’t posted about Boston and I don’t plan to. This may sound heartless, but I have enough anxiety in my life right now. I don’t need to add the heartbreak and fear of others to my own. It wouldn’t end well. Thank you for validating my feelings. I thought I was the only one who wanted to focus on everyday life instead of the tragedy.

  6. If there were a proper etiquette in dealing with large-scale tragedy, I’m sure it would include knowing one’s self and being true to one’s self.

    Which is what you are doing so mindfully.

    Abiding with you as you approach the scan. XOXO

  7. Great thoughtful post.

    I hate that we have to process and integrate these tragedies into our lives at all. I wish they never happened. But, unfortunately, this is the world we live in. Sadly.

    I think respecting everyone’s way of processing the events is the wisest choice. Except Epicurious. I don’t respect the way they handled this. :/

  8. I did both- posted a depressing post about the darkness I see all around me right now, but then also posted on FB a cute pic of my daughter, because I had to put something happy and light out there, if only for me. Interestingly, I got WAY more response to the picture- I guess you are right in that people feel uncomfortable with seeing how others process such things.

  9. I can’t watch the news period. I remember when I lived with my in laws they did, and I’d have to go into our bedroom to cry. I’ve always said my ability to stick my head in the sand and ignore reality is both my biggest blessing and biggest downfall.
    I’m with you.

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