Aurora Shootings: What Victims' Families Want to Tell Us But Can't

I live about ten miles away from the theater where the shootings happened in Aurora, and spent much of yesterday talking to people who were directly affected. One woman's friend died. Another friend lost a coworker. Another friend was in the theatre next door when the shootings happened, and made it out unharmed, but frightened. Another friend knows a family whose daughter is hanging onto her life by a thread in intensive care. A paramedic friend seemed to be in a fog -- the things he saw and the things he had to do will haunt him a lifetime. Another friend shared about a family member who is a nurse, and about the stresses the employees are under at the hospital where she works. Everywhere we turn in Aurora, there are stories of heartache and despair. There is still much confusion, and many residents are in a state of shock.

Families and friends of the victims are reaching out to each other, trying to get news, sharing updates and consoling one another using social media. Facebook is full of posts asking, "Are you okay?" and "So glad you weren't there last night!" Families are simultaneously trying to keep the media away with one hand, while asking for emotional support with the other. What would have been private moments in another generation are being played out in front of a world thirsty for real-time play-by-plays. Unfortunately, what is going on in Aurora is not a "reality show." It's real.

Please remember these families and their friends are hurting. They are in pain, they are in shock, they are confused and they are exhausted. Some are dealing with the biggest decisions they will ever make. Others are battling with guilt, despair, fear and grief. While all this is playing out in their lives, they see your Facebook posts. They see your tweets. They read your emails, they read your blog diaries, and they hear your radio broadcasts. They too need to use those forms of communication for their own needs. Please be sensitive.

Our anger is a natural protective reaction to observing a crime. We want to avenge the deaths or injuries of the innocent by holding perpetrators, and the conditions that create crime, responsible. Our adrenaline is flowing and releasing it through anger can make us feel better.

Unfortunately, our anger is showing up in places where people are looking for support. Places where these people can't help but look, and where it hurts them again, and again, and again. The tension our anger creates, hurts the very people we want to protect. Those who suffer today need us to protect them from the anger. They need us to shelter them, help them, comfort them, console them, pray for them and to be gentle around them. At least for today.

When a victim's family or circles of friends are reaching out for support, they don't care if that person is a Republican, or a Democrat, or a member of the NRA, or a proponent of gun control. They don't care what race they are, or if they were born in this country. They don't care how they vote, whether or not they own firearms, or if they go to church or synagogue or mosque. What they care about is if that person is ready to hold them when they need a hug, or catch them emotionally if they "collapse." They want to know that person can be called in the middle of the night, or will mind picking up their kids from school. Or will sit with them while they cry. If the world around them is full of anger, there is no space for their pain.

There will be many months to analyze what happened, to point fingers, to assign blame, to argue, to debate, and to "be right." There will be many months to carry a flag, to score political points and to protest transgressions. There will be ample time to share our anger, if that is what we feel compelled to do. But that day is not today.

I am not saying, "Don't be angry." I am saying, let's be responsible with our anger. Let's be sensitive to who sees that anger, and how, and when. I'm asking all of us to look deep within ourselves and discover alternative ways we can react that will help us all to heal. Let's all take a break from spouting our anger for just for a few days. Let's give people around us a safe space to grieve, to reach out and to be vulnerable. Instead of using our energy to be angry, let's use it to comfort those around us. And for those who do not live close to Aurora, there is so much that can be done.

• Make some handmade cards and send them to one of the area hospitals.
• Bake some cookies and bring them to your local fire stations and police stations.
• Organize a car wash and have the proceeds go to a scholarship fund in someone's memory.
• Write a check to the Aurora Mental Health Center to get people the counseling they need for months to come.
• If you're in Denver, call your closest hospital and offer to host a traveling relative. Write a poem of gratitude for all who survived, and share it widely.
• Go door-to-door and collect contributions to the Red Cross.
• Start a prayer chain and offer it to victim's family members.
• Create a memorial website, giving people an opportunity to share their condolences or their grief.
• Paint a sign with a comforting message and display it on your front door.
• Tie black and blue ribbons around your trees (Batman colors).
• Host a prayer vigil in your own community or at your church, and invite the larger community.
• Be extra sensitive to teenagers trying to process what happened, and ask if they need someone to talk to.
• Thank a nurse.

I could go on and on. After Columbine, Colorado witnessed extraordinary displays of kindness and outpourings of love from all over the world. And as the years went by, we paid that gift forward by offering our love and support to other communities in need. No doubt, this will happen again. This tragedy will once again bring out the best of what makes us human, and our acts of love will make it possible for others to heal.

Until then, let's all be careful with our on-line communications. Let's all be the kinds of support we would want available, and easily accessible to us, if our world was falling apart. Let us seek revenge against hate by being living pillars of love.

American Red Cross

Aurora Mental Health Center