Monday, July 23, 2012

Aurora Rising: Phoenix Grievers Emerge from the Ashes of Tragedy

“The phoenix hope, can wing her way through the desert skies, and still defying fortune’s spite, revive from ashes and rise.”  ~ Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, Spanish writer, author of the masterwork El quijote (1547-1616).

Al Siebert coined the term “phoenix grievers” in his book The Resiliency Advantage, and the term describes so many people I have met who find ways through their unimaginable pain with grace and growth. Siebert opens one chapter by saying, “Survivors of extreme trauma are never the same again. Their lives have two parts: ‘before’ and ‘after.’ How their new life turns out for them depends on their resiliency.” (p. 171)

Photo by thevsky

65 hours after the Aurora shooting I found myself flying home from Indianapolis after a speaking engagement on resilience. Tears streamed down my face the entire flight as I watched the non-stop coverage of the Aurora memorial service on CNN. Images and words from last night will stay with me for a long time as they showed such promise of the resilient spirit of all those affected:

· White roses and candles everywhere.
· Parents hugging their children and holding hands tightly in prayer.
· A large banner with hand-written words: “Angels walk with those who grieve.”
· Scores of service members in uniform. Offering formal salutes at the makeshift memorial. One by one.
· Governor Hickenlooper asking the audience to recite “We will remember” after he listed the deceased one by one.
· Mayor Steve Hogan surrounded by other Colorado leaders emphasizing, “This community is not defined by this tragedy.”
· “We shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,” said President Obama and then told the inspiring story of two teens in the front of the theater. When one was shot in the neck, the other put pressure on the wound with one hand while calling 911 with the other. “They represent what is best in us,” he said. “They represent that out of this darkness a brighter day will come.”
· Countless stories of strangers carrying strangers from the fray; of police officers transporting dozens of the wounded to hospitals.
· Pastor Debbie Stafford in her prayer lifted up this plea, “We honor the lives of these incredible people. May the comforter of your holy spirit wrap your arms around each one who suffers in their body and mind. May they know your love we thank you for your protection over each of them.”
· Reverend Ron Frierson remembering first responders to swells of cheering, “You are first on the call and the last ones people think of that went through something. You were chosen to answer the call, and we are grateful that you did.”
· Twelve balloons tied together soaring to the heavens.
· The melody of “Amazing Grace” lifting above the crowd as families of the victims started to leave in bandages, slings, crutches and wheelchairs.
The names of those who lost their lives were stated several times, but the suspect’s name was not mentioned once.

“I refuse to say his name,” said Governor Hickenlooper. “In my house, we will just call him ‘suspect A.”

When people suffer the loss of a loved one, they often feel guilty about leading full lives. The thought process goes, “If my loved one didn’t get to live out her days with joy and fulfillment, who am I to do so?” In addition, there may be a desire to do penance: “I do not deserve happiness, because my loved one has died.” Dr. Viktor Frankl, a famous Holocaust survivor who helped many others find their way through the grief of losing a loved one,  raised these questions to those impacted by a tragic loss: “If you were the one who died and your loved one was still alive, what would you wish they would be doing? What kind of life would you hope your loved one would lead if you were the one who had died?” 

Phoenix grievers like those in Aurora dive into these questions, and rise from the ashes transformed.

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