Pain that is not relieved in a person’s life continues after they are gone, held as a sordid memory by loved ones. Just as we retain treasured thoughts of innocence, joy, wisdom and warmth, we preserve images of pain. We draw a modicum of comfort from the Newtown coroner who reassured us the precious victims of the Sandy Hook massacre did not “suffer long”, but the idea that they suffered at all contaminates memory, preventing healing, healthy grieving and closure. This pain in turn flows across our communities, touching many who may never have met these children and their heroic protectors.
This does not have to be physic discomfort to be treated with pain medication. The horror of the Sandy Hook shootings, the fear, the fight for survival, the wounds and bleeding, and eventually death, cast intense images that will last more than one lifetime. Uncontrolled anxiety or fear may contaminate the surviving families, and the community, and corrupt its fiber, as can loss of spiritual path, loneliness, or guilt. Failure to come to terms with the enormity of this senseless event results in a loss of opportunity, a psychic wound that may never heal.
The death of these children, and the staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, will transform families for generations. I remember the 1989 story of a young man who was shot and killed in a random drive-by in the city of Oakland, CA. The victim had no relation to his attackers. No reason could be given by the authorities as to why this random act of violence brought this young man’s life to such a tragic close. But it resulted in his wife becoming chronically depressed and isolated from her family. She committed suicide, leaving their son a life as an alcoholic and drug addict. The ripples from that one event spread out and, through the network of that family, caused pain for many more.
When we think of Newtown, we cannot help but focus on those immediate moments for the victims and their family, as well we should. The opportunity to live one’s life to its fullest, and to its natural end should not be denied, and must be the first goal in treating the survivors. However, we cannot overstate the need and potential to protect and even nourish future generations by treating pain of all types in the Sandy Hook families sharing that passage and in the community of Newton.
Yes, unfortunately, there is pain after death, and I suspect it is the cause of much waste, anger and tragedy in our society. We must strive to prevent that suffering. Good things are possible, loved ones can be together, memories shared, and solid foundations laid. Survivors, families, doctors and caregivers must protect and treasure even this difficult time of a person’s life, because as one life ends, others are beginning.