Everybody Processes Grief Differently

“Everybody processes grief differently” some need to talk, others need quiet. As a journalist, I needed to acknowledge the tragedies of this week and find resources to help.

That wisdom comes from my friend with a masters in divinity, Dorie Griggs. I emailed her Friday looking for guidance on my reporting after learning the news that a mother and military spouse was accused of killing her two teenage children while her husband was on an overseas assignment.

The Tampa Bay community was already raw with emotion.

For the MacDill Air Force Base “family” of military and civilian personnel, the cavalcade of events started a week ago Friday with the loss of Col. David Haar, commander of MacDill’s 6th Air Mobility Wing Maintenance Group. His death was from natural causes, but it was unexpected. His loss came just as his MacDill team was starting a week-long exercise on Operational Readiness.

The community was further impacted by Monday’s shootout in a St. Petersburg neighborhood that left two police dead, a U.S. marshal wounded, the suspect dead and a house destroyed.

Just as the St. Petersburg officers were being memorialized, across the bay authorities were releasing details about Julie Schenecker who reportedly admitted to deputies that she shot and killed her two children, Calyx Schenecker, 16, and Powers Beau Schenecker, 13. Their father, Army Col. Parker Schenecker, is assigned to MacDill’s Central Command and was in Qatar at the time.

I could see people trying to make sense out of these unexplainable events as they wrote comments on local blogs and Facebook pages. Here again Dorie offered me balance.

“A lot of things just don’t make sense” and trying to apply reason to an illogical act can be frustrating, time consuming and unsuccessful.

What got lost in this week’s tragic events – Friday marked the 31st Anniversary of the sinking of the Coast Guard Cutter Blackthorn as the buoy tender was leaving Tampa Bay. The Coast Guard lost 50 crew members that day, Jan. 28, 1980.

Dorie’s specialty is working with reporters who cover traumatic events. I was not traumatized, but I was concerned that my reporting not add to the community’s  open wounds. She warned against speculation especially as people seek to find a motivation or reason for events. More importantly, Dorie assured me that it’s okay to not have the answers.

Bottom line, everyone is going to have to deal with these tragedies individually. My instinct as a journalist is to find resources for people who may need help dealing with this collective loss.

The VA offers advice on The Effects of Community Violence on Children.

Dorie pointed me to The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma which offers a wealth of material:

Resources for journalists covering violence

How news coverage of trauma impacts the public

Violence: Comparing Reporting and Reality

Unraveling Media and Trauma Connections

And there’s a Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard report on Trauma in the Aftermath.

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