Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Hugs to All Survivors

Have you lost a loved one to an unexpected, horrific death? Any loss, of course, is unsettling because the world tips out of balance, but a bad surprise is like falling off the swings when you were going especially high. It knocks the wind out of you and makes you question your mortality.

While practical people argue for gun control after the Parkland massacre, I can’t help thinking of all those who have been left behind by a deadly shooting or natural disaster. How do they face the rest of their lives? The future is suddenly a ruined game of JENGA.

An unanticipated death—especially one that’s ugly—can crush all that you had been, seizing your soul in merciless hands that squeeze until you know you have to reboot your outlook entirely. You’re suddenly older. Nothing can stay the same. You struggle to find a higher, surer path forward. Some will discover richer awareness than any to which they could have aspired had they not begun anew. Some will founder, turning their confusion and devastation inward. The Parkland students cling to one another, wisely realizing their danger, but what happened to the survivors from Las Vegas or Florida or the fires in California and the hurricane in Puerto Rico? What happens in Parkland when school is over?

When I was writing my first novel (Death Lost Dominion), I wanted to look closely at the dilemma of survival. One of my characters was forced to confront a lifetime colored by the violent circumstances of her conception. Each subsequent death that happened around her demanded that she re-examine her values and beliefs, searching for meaning and the strength to grow. Death informs life. As I wrote then, I was speculating from the outside. Later, unexpected death would strike closer to me.

After each natural disaster—or at least those that occur in areas where there is money and motivation for rebuilding—a fresh city arises. Archeologists know that our civilizations rest on the bones of the past. Likewise, we as people must rebuild ourselves when we are mutilated to the core. We honor the lost when we rebuild something stronger and morally better than our past life.

But we can’t face the daunting task alone. We must seek out other survivors to stand with us, to understand, to share the burden. We must remember that love—not the gooey, sentimental kind but the kind that is power and connection—can support us through the quicksand that lies before us. We must resist the voices of decay that are always ready to tell us why nothing can improve and why we should give in to darkness.

Nightmares and guilt are disturbing shadows that may plague you, but remember they’re only shadows. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a hero or phenomenon of some sort, you deserve to live. You were sent here to be you. You’re never alone, but you may need to take a chance and reach out. There are hands waiting to grip yours.

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