When Tragedy Strikes Close to Home: How We React Speaks Volumes

Winter black tree on blue backgroundWe are bombarded daily by horrific stories of human suffering caused by everything from natural disasters to unspeakable violence. Since the proliferation of social media and the 24-hour news cycle, we can hardly escape the daily tragedies. How we choose to react to this abundance of depressing information, especially what we put down in words, says more about us than the state of the world we live in.

For most of us, tragedy happens to other people. It’s easy to voice our opinions on how others behave, especially strangers. The internet makes that even easier by providing a curtain of anonymity to hide behind. Imagine however, what would happen if the tragedy you just commented on was happening to you.

The horrific incident that happened in Las Vegas recently is an example. Yes, it was an incomprehensible act of violence. We can all sympathize with the victims and pray for the families involved. However, the comments about the perpetrator have been quite ugly. It’s understandable that people would be outraged by the senseless loss of life. But, imagine if you will, that you are the gunman’s brother. The person you grew up with bears no resemblance to the “madman” being defined on computers everywhere. As a member of his family, you will no doubt experience guilt, shame, and depression, for the remainder of your life.  Every online barb just adds to your suffering and does nothing to the actual person who committed the crime.

A more recent event brought back feelings of anger and helplessness that I experience whenever I read comments (even though I’ve told myself not to) on articles about the death of Ethan Saylor.  Soon after he was killed by off-duty deputies over the price of a movie ticket, the insults and assumptions started pouring in. Some were aimed at those who actually asphyxiated Ethan, but a staggering amount of people chose to blame his family, especially his mother, for even allowing Ethan out of the house.

This from the brother of the Sherriff who was responsible for the off-duty deputies and the internal investigation into Ethan’s death:

“I would suggest Patti go to the bathroom, look in the mirror and face the blame. What was she doing that night so important she could not accompany Ethan to the movie? I know we all need time alone, however, she should have known better to send him out in public with someone ill-equipped to handle him. If she couldn’t go, keep him home in his comfort zone or send him with someone properly trained. According to The News-Post, she directed his care provider to leave him alone in the theater, another mistake for which she is to blame. Her poor choices are to blame and she should accept responsibility.”

Yesterday, I saw a plea from one of the administrators of a Facebook group for parents in West Virginia who are on the Medicaid waiver wait list. Another tragedy had taken place and for her, it was close to home.

“I know what I’m gonna ask is hard but please don’t judge. Please don’t assume. Please don’t whisper. Ask questions. Ask questions like ‘do you need anything’? Offer help. Most won’t take it. Lord knows I never would. This isn’t gonna be something anyone will ever understand. You just won’t. “

She was attempting to keep the online discussion as positive as possible. She knew the flood gates were about to open and swallow the memory of her friend. What happened in Culloden, WV was heartbreaking to say the least. The thought of a mother killing her child and then herself is unfathomable, and I am in no way trying to excuse it or explain it. However, it is not completely unheard of in the disability community. When we learn about these events our instinct may be to lash out at the parent who committed such an act of desperation.

What I’m asking is that you consider those left behind before you do. Is it really that important for you to be right? Are your insults and rage helpful to the brother (7 with Down syndrome and autism) who holds on to life by a thread? If he sees these comments when he gets older how will they make him feel? What about the father who struggles with survivor’s guilt and will ask himself daily, for the rest of his life, if he could have prevented it somehow? Will negativity help him explain to his son why his mother and sister are not coming home? Will your remarks help him be a better father?

THINK: Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it inspiring? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Recently, as horrendous events have been happening in our own back yards and all over the world, our political leaders have not been setting a good example for others to follow. Let’s do our part to change the climate of social media.

Unfortunately, none of us are immune to tragedy. You and I could wake up some day and find our world completely turned upside down by the acts of others. We can’t stop every bad thing from happening. What we can do is pray for the victims, and even the perpetrators, and reserve judgement for our higher power.

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