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Residents of Newtown, Conn., have decided against a public commemoration to mark the first anniversary this coming Saturday of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, which left 20 first graders and six educators dead.
Instead, the town is endorsing a “year of service” and is asking residents to put a candle in their window on Dec. 14, the day of the shooting, to show their commitment to the idea of service to each other.
Newtown families have also announced the creation of the website “My Sandy Hook Family,” where people can post their remembrances.
Newtown resident and psychiatrist John Woodall is an expert on resilience and a member of the committee that decided not to hold a town-wide event for the anniversary. He speaks with Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson about the decision.
On the decision not to hold an anniversary event
“Unlike 9/11, where it was really a national event in the sense that the nation was attacked by an outside force, it was al-Qaida attacking the country, this was a deranged individual killing very innocent children. So the families experienced it very personally. Although the grief has been shared nationally and internationally, to them it is a very personal event. So I think that they wanted to have this time to themselves for private reflection. Also that what happened last year, with the crush of the media, was more than they could bear.”
On whether a commemoration ceremony would help families heal
“We really felt that the town experienced this as a town. There are concentric circles that radiate out from this horror, obviously in the center of that circle are the families themselves. So our thought also is that we don’t look at grief as something you heal from like it’s an illness, like it’s a cold for instance. We use that language a lot, you know ‘have you recovered’ or ‘have you healed from your grief?’ And we thought, really, what grief is is a form of love, but with the loved one gone, so it’s really the heartbreak of separation from the loved one. So the work of grief is to find a new form for that love, to find a new expression for it, a new commitment, a way to honor the love. And so, again, we came back to this idea that a commitment to transform that anguish into a commitment to compassion and kindness, that’s where we wanted to keep the focus. And that’s something that goes beyond a day. It’s something that we want to be part of the culture of the town.”
On how people are doing a year later
“It’s as diverse as there are people in the world. I have this concept of ‘suffering successfully.’ None of us wants to suffer, but if we’re forced to, we at least want to get out of it the best we possibly can. Again, I think we see everything humanly imaginable here. People who are so overwhelmed with grief that it’s hard to leave the house; you may find yourself being more snippy with your spouse or a little less tolerant of people’s opinions. These are the things we want to mitigate against, so we have wonderful examples already of this spirit of service. There’s a ‘26 days of kindness’ going on right now, actually, in the run-up to the anniversary where people are posting on Facebook and different social media acts of kindness. So I think it’s kind of a race, actually, to make sure these positive forces win in the end—that we have successfully suffered.”