in the wake of unfathomable tragedy: things that might help

blog in the wake of unfathomable tragedyGod is close to the brokenhearted – psalm 34:18

the tragedy in connecticut has ripped apart our hearts.  i am so sad & overwhelmed with the magnitude of this reality.  when i kissed the twins goodnight last night after they were already asleep i just started bawling, imagining those precious parents and never kissing their babies goodnight again.  in so many ways, there are no words, just cries of our hearts.

last night i looked at facebook for a short while and decided quickly that was a bad idea and quickly logged off–too many posts about mike huckabee & gun laws for me.

i also understand that these kinds of unfathomable tragedies happen often around the world–to children, to grownups–and so much of it feels so far away that we don’t even notice it.

for advent at the refuge we are talking about light & i am reminded yet again how darkness is always trying to prevail here on earth.  it can’t win.  it can’t ultimately win.  but goodness gracious, the pull is so strong.

how we navigate through tragedy & seek the light in the darkness looks so different for all of us.  we all have to find our own unique way of coping, but i think there might be some things that aren’t-so-helpful and things that might be.  

as we move forward into the weeks & months ahead, i want to try to practice and remember the things that help.

here are a few things that might help us find our way forward: 

1. share honestly how we are feeling in some kind of safe space.  we don’t always have to use words, but may we find relationships or sacred space where we can be honest, we can be quiet, we can listen, we can vent, we can have no words, we can cry, we can lament, we can create, we can do-whatever-we-need-to-grieve-in-our-own-way.

2.  don’t compare our feelings or responses to others.  it’s easy to feel like maybe we are grieving too much or somehow aren’t sad enough. we all process differently & there are no right or wrong answers on ways to grieve.  some people can feel like they are way too upset and undone for something so far away & others can feel cold because maybe we haven’t cried enough.   the most important thing is to not compare and just be true to where we are at.  there’s no timeframe for grief.

3. instead of trying to engage our heads in a theological tug-of-war, cling to one thing that feels true about God in our hearts right now.  some will do fine with putting certain pieces together theologically and that will help them, but for others of us, it’s just a little too much to bear.  i think holding on to one true thing that brings hope is enough.  for me, it’s God’s emmanuel-ness, with-ness in the darkness, the promise that no matter what God will never leave us or forsake us, and that Jesus is always close to the brokenhearted (i guess that’s two).

4. cry out to God for help & healing for those who need it.   we can pray and cry out to God with words or with groans in our hearts on others’ behalf.  for those who have lost so much.  for those who are traumatized.  for those who are afraid.  for those who are hurting.  for those who are in desperate need of hope. for all the scared kids & parents in other places. for whatever stirs in our souls.

5. stay off of facebook & twitter & the news or any other places that bombard us & wear down our souls.   this looks different for everyone, but it’s okay to protect ourselves that way.

6.  consider “what” we can do to bring goodness & light to this dark world in some small way.  this looks so differently for each of us, but it is how we can participate in overcoming evil with good, for transitioning from the we’ll-never-get-an-answer “why” question to the more helpful “what-can-we-actually-do?”one. i’m reminded of teresa of avila’s words–“Christ has no body here but ours…”  we’re what this world’s got. and our flawed messy hearts & hands & feet can tilt things in a better direction.

i’m sure there are so many others so feel free to add yours.  i hesitated saying anything today but maybe it’s more for me than anyone else, a way to look toward the light.

love from colorado, kathy

* * * * *

ps:  i will post the “when christmas is hard: ‘thanks'” post next week instead. it just wasn’t the right time yesterday.

ppss:  i made these candles for a christmas present for my friends in denver who journey with people in hard places.  we meet once a month to learn & reflect & support each other.  they know pain & i thought it might be an appropriate word for this year.  i lit mine the minute jose & i got home yesterday after hearing the news.  it was a small act of taking good care of my pericardium.  so i’m lighting it again right now. yes, God, your mercy, please.





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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • thank you for posting this. I was considering posting but it seems more relevant to post in the States at this time. The first thing you experience in grief is almost always shock. They will be feeling numb. As this wears off, it’s the after affects they may need help with. I will probably post something about grief next week.

    • thanks, kay. yes, i have wondered what this is all like from another perspective around the world. i also agree with you, the real work comes in the months & years afterward. i hope you share about it, the more perspectives & tools & encouragement people can get, the better. i am glad you are here.

  • Yes, Kathy, those are things that help. Such great suggestions. Thank you for lighting the candle and the lights at the refuge. Thanks for being a refuge for me here online. You are lighting the way for me – far more than you can imagine. Peace be with you – and with all of us. Deep peace. May there be light and may Emmanuel be with us as never before.

    • thanks lovely gail. i am glad that somehow the candles lit here shine light over there and that we are connected in this weird and crazy space. my heart is with you from afar.

  • Yes, we all need that safe place where we can share. For many of us, we never found that place “in church.”

    About twenty years ago a couple we knew were really into Amway. They gave us some tapes to listen to that were supposed to make us want to sell Amway. It didn’t work, but I remember that a woman on one of the tapes talked about avoiding places where there is a constant negative, “everything is terrible and getting worse every day” attitude. That’s not a safe place. I recently thought of that description when thinking about Facebook.

    As my friend in the computer business says, “If it’s free, like Facebook, the product is you. Those sites are in the business of gathering as much information as possible about you and they sell it.” Facebook is one of the worst offenders.

    • As I’ve listened to the news in the wake of the tragedy, I’ve been struck by the outrageous, grossly insensitive comments from some well-known “Christian” personalities. They seem to think God told them that this tragedy, the recent hurricanes and other calamities are God’s judgement for this, that or the other. Where’s their compassion for the families and everyone else in shock? Instead they’re grandstanding to draw attention to themselves.

      Thank you, Kathy, for providing a safe refuge here and in Denver for us to gather together with you and the one who came to show us what God really looks like.

      • oh goodness gracious, it is so crazy, the b.s. being tossed around out there about God’s judgment and all kinds of other horridly insensitive things. no wonder we have a bad reputation. i hope we can all be little refuges in the storm in our own ways, being balm instead of vinegar.

    • oh we all have those amway stories, don’t we. facebook definitely has so many positives but a lot of negatives, too. it’s so important to use it wisely and i can always start to feel when things get toxic.

  • Love your focus on Jesus Emmanuelness Kathy my sweet friend So good to seek what can we do than on why and being frustrated at never getting an answer Love from portland 🙂

  • This is super beautiful, and I can connect with all of them.

    Another thing, like if if people are wondering how can they help, could start in their own communities. If people gave, say even $20 to represent each child victims to a children’s bereavment center in their area, it would make a difference. Grieving kids are often called the “forgotten mourners”, and the research shows how much impact intervention can truly have on their long term emotional health. *exiting soapbox* 🙂

    Also, I am sure that nowdays in graduate schools for counseling, they are having more conversations about mass tragedies such as these. My hope is that they continue to have more of the “do your own work, make sure you are acknowledging your own pain in the midst” conversations. Crucial.

    I think that it is really important to not underestimate the power of listening, especially when you have friends or family members that have more of a direct impact with a tragedy. Like with most issues/hurts/vents, what often times people may not want is… advice. This is my field, it is my passion, and when I have a bit of compassion fatigue, or if it is just really hard to be in the midst of it all, I typically don’t want a “here’s what you shoud do/feel/” response. I need to be heard. That is really more than enough. I need to be checked in with, and know that I won’t have to justify how &^%$# hard things can be. The power of that really makes the work sustainable.

    • so grateful for you and the beautiful work you do listening and loving and being a faithful presence for the grieving. i hope you can keep letting others be that space for you, too, as you carry that big load. xo

  • great advice! especially about staying off of social media. Not usually one we think about

    • thanks margaret, yes, it’s weird how infiltrated we all have become when it comes to the media and how it really can affect our hearts and minds, probably more than we even know. glad you are here and i always appreciate you taking time to comment. peace.

  • This is great advice, Kathy. I wish I had read it last Friday night! I am so thankful that I have been moving further & further away from the internet – I even got off Facebook a few weeks ago!!!(wowzers, huge for me) I mentally/emotionally couldn’t have handled this past week if I was on FBook, like you said – so true.

    I also particularly appreciated you encouraging us to just allow ourselves to feel/respond how we are and not try to compare our responses to others.

    I had forgotten a lot of these spiritual truths that you are so good at teaching. This whole blog was good for my soul, thank you so much! I need a therapist/pastor like you 🙂

    P.S. I think of you often because your book is still sitting on my dresser waiting to be read – I AM gonna read it in 2013! 🙂 I hope you all are doing well – Merry Christmas! <3

    • thanks, randi, always awesome to hear from you. almost 5 years we’ve been together here, wild!! i look forward to hearing your thoughts on down we go. lots of love to you and your family this holiday. hold each other close.


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