Tuesday, September 17, 2013


Yesterday was a very scary and sad day in our area.  Once again our country was faced with an active shooter incident and this time it was close to home.  A lot of us spent the day sending texts to make sure friends and loved ones were safe and accounted for.

It struck me, as I was dropping off D at practice last night and jumping in and out of facebook throughout the day, how people need to make a connection to the event when a tragedy happens. 

A good friend walked up to me at the field and commented that the NAVSEA building hosted one of her clients.  She had posted it earlier on facebook and I noticed another friend commented that her husband's clients were in building 197 too.  As I walked through the field to get D from baseball and off to soccer, I overheard pockets of conversation about who they knew there and how they experienced this sad and terrifying day. It reminded me of how people re-tell their "where were you" stories from September 11th.

I felt compelled to mention to my friend that my brother-in-law was 6 blocks away and was also on lockdown, and that the husband of a third grade teacher at our school whose son is A's best friend was in the building.  He was feet away from the gunman.  He heard him click his gun.  The other connections to the tragedy came easily.

K saw all the police cars rushing to the scene on his way to work only a few miles away.

I have been on the Navy Yard installation many times.  I worked a few blocks from the main gate.  One of the pictures shows a man lying in the street right next to my old building. I've walked those streets on the tv screen constantly many times.

My client's whole existence is based on the shooting at Ft. Hood.  I read about and study acts of terrorism, violence and the things we do to mitigate them every day.  The terms "shelter-in-place" and "active shooter" are part of my daily lexicon.

However, nobody directly related to me was killed or actually there.  Why did I feel the need to make a connection to the tragic event and share that with others?  In some ways it becomes the Kevin Bacon game or how many degrees of separation we can achieve.

It also, of course, reminded me of the accident.  Perfect strangers have come up to me to establish the connection to my sister or the girls.  Other people mention to me that another person has told them all about the accident and their own story and remote connection our family.  I still get the "we're praying for all of you" from people I don't even know.  It feels intrusive, like they are taking a piece of our tragedy and making their own.  It drives me crazy.

Didn't I do the same thing yesterday?  Is this simply human nature?  Despite my very real connections to yesterday's events, this was not my tragedy.  I am not sitting at home reeling in the first moments of shocking grief wondering how this could have happened.

M doesn't like to tell people her story.  While most people know that I am her aunt, we still sometimes feel the need to explain that I'm not her mom and the boys aren't her brothers.  Recently, we've been dealing with it on her new soccer team.    As 13 year girls will do, some of her new teammates have gotten upset hearing the news and there was a crying incident at soccer camp this summer.  This infuriates M. 

"I don't understand Aunt Peg.  I'm not crying so they don't need to.  It's not THEIR story, it's mine."

I'm determined from this point on as more about the Navy Yard shooting unfolds NOT to make this my story.  I feel for those families that lost a loved one in such a senseless act.  I certainly know how that feels.  I also will try to send positive thoughts to those families who sat for hours wondering if their loved ones were safe.  I hope for healing for those who actually lived through the day both as first responders and Navy Yard personnel.

I'm going to learn from my very wise niece.  It's not my story.  We can only handle one tragedy around these parts anyway.


  1. It's an interesting question, that borrowed pain. We need empathy, but we don't need to own certain things. It's complicated.

    In terms of this particular tragedy, I've barely absorbed it at all. It's too far away and I feel too useless on the topic. Many people in this country feel events like this, along with the daily deaths of children at gunpoint, are a reasonable price to pay to have easy access to weapons. It leaves me stunned and saddened to a degree that leaves me numb.

    1. The strange thing was everyone's need to kinda "one up" how they were connected to the shooting. I'm not really saying that making the connection is wrong, the similarity with our feelings about people talking about the accident just struck me. It made me feel a bit hypocritical. It then got me thinking about WHY people do it. Maybe sharing with others about connection gives the sharer attention. I think it was that feeling that made me feel weird about the whoel thing. As you said, it's complicated.

      Unfortunately, I think I'm going to be dealing with the incident at work, but at least I can keep a professional distance. Wait, was that oversharing again?

  2. This is interesting and thought-provoking. I don't think it's about attention, though, at least for most people. I think that imagined pain is still real, if that makes any sense. When a person imagines how they'd feel in a situation, they might be wrong about the actual feelings that they'd have (in fact, I think we are often wrong), but they still have those emotions as they're imagining it. So, that child that cried imagining M's pain really might have been imagining how the child herself would feel, and with the poor emotional control of a teenager let herself wallow a bit too deep.

    1. I definitely appreciate empathy and that is probably at the heart of most people's reaction. Sometimes, however, I get the feeling that a line is crossed and the focus is on the person making the vague connection and not the actual event. I'm really not articulating this very well, but I could give you a dozen examples of how it's affected us. Like a lady coming up to me at back to school night sobbing on my shoulder because she once met my sister at a swim meet. Or a friend who barely knew my sister who won't drive on a the road in which the accident happpened or says she gets the chills when she sees a car like the one Mike was driving. It just feels weird. The genuine empathy is fine, the overkill isn't.

      Maybe the road to empathy is making that personal connection? Maybe some people stay on that road too long or highlight the road and don't get to the empathy? Not sure that makes sense either, but thanks for joining the discussion, Sara :)

  3. I've wondered about this phenomena before too. In the case of your sister and her family, people really need to get ahold of themselves - but the thing is, it is really just so very sad that its hard not to be moved by it.

    In the case of the incident yesterday, I'm having the opposite experience. I don't have any connection there, and since I'm so far away it doesn't feel quite as acute. And I feel guilty that I'm not thinking about it more, that I'm not more sad.

  4. Hi Peg! New reader here - I don't blog but I enjoy reading and commenting on occasion.

    This post reminded me of the Ring Theory - comfort in, dump out. It's illustrated and explained here as it applies to illness, but I think it applies to grief and what you're talking about here too: http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/opinionla/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407,0,5036964.story

  5. Jackie, thanks so much for the comment. The article you sent totally hits it on the head. I immediately sent it to my sister C and she completely agreed. I don't think people cross into the rings maliciously, but many just don't think before they speak. Thanks for reading!

  6. I've been mulling this post over for a couple of days. I remember when April 16 happened at Tech I was a wreck. My "Aunt" Norma was/is a secretary for the Engineering department and I KNEW she was in her office in Norris Hall. My friend Jeff's dad is/was an engineering prof. I was VERY worried about them.

    On Sept. 11, I didn't know anyone directly involved (other than Jess being in Dulles's flight path) but still tried to make connections. For me, it was all about trying to connect with humanity.

    But, upon reflection, I can't help but wonder if on April 16th I weren't trying to play some sort of one-up-manship (that's a weird word to try and type out this early in the morning) game. A sort of "No, no. I'm MUCH more impacted by this than you." Which is, of course, ridiculous. Jeff was terrified for his father. Robin equally so for her mother. How could I compare to that? Why did I try.

    I don't think we're trying to be malicious when we do so, but, maybe we do need to think before we speak.

    Now, with that said, I've tried to put it in context of Hannah dying. You're right. It completely pisses me off when I hear of my mom's "friend" who said she was so destroyed by Hannah's death she had to go on anti-depressants. Seriously?!? Or, when my cousin (who shall remain nameless) kept going on and on and on about how devastated she was. Really?? You think it was bad for you??? ARGH! And, as I'm sure you're well aware from your own experiences, there were so many more.

    So, yes, I'm guilty of trying to make those connections and I can honestly say on the main level I truly was just trying to feel a part of everyone else, and truly had no ulterior motive. I sincerely hope that's what the others who were being ridiculous were trying to do with me. Maybe I just need to give them a pass? Maybe I too should stop trying to make those connections? I just don't know. Obviously I'm still mulling this over...

    And now, off to check out the article Jackie posted.