On Friday, the holiday season came to an abrupt halt with the incomprehensible massacre of innocent children and heroic women at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  Christmas carols have become the soundtrack to an endless media loop of unspeakable tragedy.  Christmas lights have dimmed in the glow of candle-lit vigils.  Christmases yet to come will forever be haunted by the Ghost of Christmas Present.

We are a country in mourning and our grief is inconsolable.  Inconsolable grief is just that—inconsolable.  It cannot be comforted, it cannot be soothed, it cannot be relieved, it cannot be rationalized away—in many cases it cannot ever heal.  Innumerable lives have forever been altered in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine.

The Internet allows for instantaneous outpourings of condolences and comments—sincere and disingenuous, commendable and contemptible.  Sympathy has been laced with rage, urgency to place blame, and calls for action—for we are a heartbroken and helpless nation.  Never do we feel so helpless, as when in the face of that which is inconsolable.

While there is a clear and indisputable need for future action—there is immediate need for stillness.  This is the time to go inward—with reflection.  Offer up prayers and gratitude—send out light and love.  And then reach outward—with warmth and comfort.  Connect with those you love.  Hug your children, friends, and family.  Make eye-contact and smile at strangers.

This week I will hold anxious grieving mothers and terrified children.  I will offer words of comfort and reassurances that will sound hollow to my ears even as they fall from my lips.  Because I can promise that time will change the experience of grief, but I cannot promise that pain will heal.  And I can promise that we will try to keep our children and loved ones safe, but I cannot promise that we will succeed.

Even so, our nation’s only hope for healing is to move forward with love and intention.

Below are some ways to be with those who grieve:

  • Sit with your discomfort in the presence of their grief.
  • Be willing to listen and ask questions.
  • Speak their loved one’s name.
  • Cry with them.
  • Offer physical comfort through hugs and holding their hands.
  • Regardless of what is stirred up for you, stay focused on them.
  • Don’t chatter to fill the silences.
  • Don’t offer platitude’s like “It’s God’s will,” and “I know how you feel.”
  • Let their needs be your guide:
    • Maybe they want to cry.
    • Maybe they want to talk.
    • Maybe they want to rage.
    • Maybe they want to argue.
    • Maybe they want to rock in silence.
    • Maybe they want to sleep.
  • Recognize that there is extra complexity for the living victims of murder.
  • They will question, they will wonder, they will imagine, they will beg for reassurance.
  • Give reassurance, whether you believe it or not.
  • And finally, if you are the caretaker—also take care of yourself.