At first I wasn’t going to write anything about the Newtown school tragedy, because I felt that I simply had nothing to add. Did I cry? Yes. I have a seven year-old. Was I enraged? Yes. How could any human being do what this animal did, gunning down babies in cold blood? Did I ponder all the questions this event raised? Yes, I thought about gun control and safety and the deficit of mental health services in this country and the signs that might have been present in this disturbed individual that were missed. Everyone in the world was thinking and doing and questioning the same things. I had no dog in this fight. Although the tragedy affected me, as it did most everyone else, I had no particular statement to make about this awful event that everyone else had not already made.
But I did notice some interesting things on Facebook. I follow Facebook fairly closely, as I like updates from family and coworkers, and heaven knows, I like to publish pictures of my daughter’s latest antics. In fact, I first learned of the tragedy through Facebook. It is possible that many others did as well. After all, I was at work, I don’t watch TV or news at home, and there is no news outlet that I consistently follow. Yes, this makes me a bit of an ignoramous. But most of the news is, so, well, bad. Bad news is not good for me, mentally, and I try to avoid it. As I watched the Facebook entries come in over a series of days, I began to wonder if there were parallels there from Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief. I made sure I looked them up so I knew what they were.
The first stage of grief is denial and isolation. Tentative questions began popping up on Facebook the morning of the tragedy as news of it began to filter out. Individuals were asking, “Is this true? Did you hear the news? What do you know? Were there really children killed?” These entries began few and far between, a few individuals who felt isolated and confused by the news. Did anyone out there know anything? Were they alone in their knowledge of something so terrible? Did it really happen? Could something this terrible really have happened? There were hopeful feelers sent out that perhaps things were not so terrible as feared. Those who had information from their news services began to type out what they knew, to increase knowledge and bring the few with a little knowledge of the tragedy in from the cold. Next, the actual news services began posting what they knew. There were updates by NPR throughout that day as they filtered in verifiable data. They were very careful not to include hearsay, as much as possible.
The second stage of grief is anger. As the news was disseminated, individuals appeared on Facebook raging about their pet beliefs (I am neither endorsing nor opposing these beliefs). What kind of a terrible individual would kill innocent babies? There were rants about how the individual responsible would be judged by God and sent straight to hell. Why is gun control not made and reinforced? How did this whacko get an assault rifle? What lobbyists are blocking gun control? The anti-gun-control advocates came back with their anger. Why are you blaming the guns? Don’t you see that if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns? People will just find other ways to hurt people. The rage extended to a tirade that went, as well as I can recall, like this: “If you ever wake up and it occurs to you that it is a good idea to walk into a school and massacre innocent children, please muster whatever scrap of sanity and decency you have, take the gun, point it at your head, and DON’T MISS.” That one went around a lot. That’s a lot of anger.
The third stage of grief is bargaining. On Facebook, a lot of this began to show up Friday evening and into Saturday. Folks began evoking their faith, and rapidly cobbled-together posts with flickering candles and angels and Jesus in classrooms began to appear. It seemed that now that the horrible truth was verified, people knew nothing could bring those children back to life. They began to evoke their faith and were bargaining and praying for everlasting peace for the children and adults that were lost. They were praying for themselves also, in the face of an unspeakable event. Please Lord, please don’t let this happen here. Please don’t let this happen to us. Support and charities sprung up quickly to support the survivors who were trying to survive and pick up the pieces. Some of this altruism may be seen as bargaining: if I help the stricken, will God please not send this terror in my direction?
The fourth stage of grief is depression. That began to show up on Facebook on Saturday and Sunday. Pictures of adorable smiling children, now dead, were passed around the internet. Their names were given. People cried. Pictures of the beautiful heroic teachers, also dead, were passed around with vignettes about their lives and how brave they had been in the face of death. You would have to be a stone not to be moved by these tributes. I confess, I cried too.
The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. And now, it is Monday. On Facebook today, there is little mention of the tragedy. There is a little outcropping from place to place, but by and large the candles and the aid groups and the photographs are almost gone. People have gone back to posts about their children, their Christmas elves, the trials of the holiday season, funny cartoons and advertisements for various goods and services. It seems we on Facebook have managed Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief in a handy four days. I am not sure what that says about us. I would like to say we show resilience in the face of tragedy, but the truth, I am sure is multi-layered. Has the internet sped up many of our emotional processes? Has our media culture inured us to the longterm emotional effects of such a tragedy? Were people just wringing all the emotional impact out of each development, as hard and as fast as possible because our culture is fascinated with tragedy and we have learned to seek emotional impact out of the media available to us? Are we just thanking God that it didn’t happen to us? It seems we have fed on this event, gleaned the emotion and impact out of it, and, if it did not affect us directly, gratefully tossed it away. All in four days, if Facebook is to be believed.