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Grief Watch, Tear Soup and Sandy Hook

Feeling the same breathless anxiety that good people all over the world felt at getting this news, rants of confusion and despair swirled in my head and wishes for healing filled my heart -- and then I resolutely refused to turn on the news. My head-in-the-sand approach was not unique.
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A homemade sign written on a table cloth, hangs outside the Stone River Grille, in honor of the teachers who died along with students a day earlier when a gunman open fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. Gary Seri, general manager at the Stone River Grille, put up red balloons that were not used when a sweet 16 party was canceled the night before in light of the massacre, said the teachers were scheduled to have their holiday party at his restaurant. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)
A homemade sign written on a table cloth, hangs outside the Stone River Grille, in honor of the teachers who died along with students a day earlier when a gunman open fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. Gary Seri, general manager at the Stone River Grille, put up red balloons that were not used when a sweet 16 party was canceled the night before in light of the massacre, said the teachers were scheduled to have their holiday party at his restaurant. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

My daughters were safely attending their respective schools when the news of the Connecticut shooting started hitting my iPhone. Feeling the same breathless anxiety that good people all over the world felt at getting this news, rants of confusion and despair swirled in my head and wishes for healing filled my heart -- and then I resolutely refused to turn on the television, read even the Huffington Post coverage or click on any link that might take me to bad news.

My head-in-the-sand approach was not unique. I know now, from extensive Facebook updates, that others were choosing to hug children, watch holiday specials and say prayers in lieu of pursuing each successive news report that only anchors this grisly event in our public consciousness and heightens the rancorous debates that flare up in times of crisis.

I, too, wanted to focus on the plans I already had for my Friday: turning on my out-of-office reply for the holiday break, getting a pedicure with a friend, making cupcakes with my daughter, hosting 10 teenagers for a slumber party. These plans were comforting and comfortable, and I really, really wanted to pretend that they were my most pressing and only concerns.

Unfortunately, my consciousness had already been pierced.

I could celebrate the joyous, chaotic klatch of 15-year-old girls in my living room, but that celebration had a raw edge, an exposed nerve, a pain that hovered on the periphery and flared up when I least expected it. I recognized this menacing emotion as grief -- this feeling that gripped me, in an instant and without my conscious control, with an overpowering need to smother my children with kisses and to never permit them leave my sight again. Ever.

Clearly, this response is unreasonable and unsustainable. So I turned to the people I trust on all things grief-related: my friends at Grief Watch.

Pat Schweibert, the founder and director of the Portland-based organization, was, by a stroke of excellent luck, my parents' next-door neighbor when she and my mother were young pregnant wives in need of across-the-driveway moral support. Pat's son, Chuck, and I were toddlers then, getting into mischief that was inconvenient at best (removing all the knobs from the cars in the unsupervised space between our houses) and dangerous at worst (pushing occupied strollers down the steep driveway into the busy street below). He's now the organization's office manager and go-to guy, connecting folks with resources at times when they most need it.

Chuck and his mom are also the co-authors of the book Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing after Loss -- a book for children of all ages who need a poultice for precisely the wounds this week's tragedy has inflicted. It reminds us that grief is not to be avoided but to be acknowledged and shared and, eventually, healed.

In this spirit, I'm looking at my daughters and their friends today, realizing anew that they, too, face trauma and grief, as they are forced to see the violence and tragedy and loss that is a reality of human experience. Their lives so far have held disappointment and betrayal and pain... but only at levels that we generally hold as "normal"; they are adolescents who wrestle with adult issues in small doses and adapt to the challenges life presents.

This week's shooting is really just more than anyone should have to bear, but here it is -- and no one can afford to get all ostrich-y about it. But we can hope to make something of our tears.