Collective Mourning, Collective Healing

by guest blogger (and PV Intern) Jessie Reiff

This week, I am sitting with the heavy reality of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newton, Connecticut this past Friday. The impacts of Friday’s shooting are deep and broad; from the lives of the children, school staff and teachers lost, to their families, networks of friends and loved ones, the grief of the perpetrator’s family and community, as well as those around the country and the world who know intimately the devastation of gun violence.  I want to acknowledge here that the losses from this tragedy are not my losses in the sense that these were not my children, my neighbors, my loved ones, and I cannot know their pain—this tragedy is not a metaphor or a lesson, it is the loss of human life and the grief of those that live in its wake.

Though the lives of those who died in Connecticut do not directly touch mine, I am deeply aware of the interconnectedness our pain and the work we do to heal.  I am made more aware of impact that our choices have on one another individually and collectively.  The work that we do here at Powerful Voices relates directly to healing our communities from violence.  Running programs that focus on girls’ empowerment, self-knowledge, and making change in girls’ communities through art and activism are some of the ways Powerful Voices responds to community violence.  They are forms of collective healing, the effects of which expand beyond the lives of the girls we serve to those in their families and communities.

When I heard that the perpetrator of this crime was living with mental illness, and that that the weapons he used were purchased legally, I knew that mental health and gun control policies were directly related to the violence that took place on Friday.  And I knew that those policies directly related to the fear and grief experienced by the elementary school students in Connecticut and, as they ripple out, to the fear and grief of children going to school this week and their families.  I am reminded that those working for gun control policies through advocacy and youth activism are doing work that shares its root with ours and that our work supports one another.  The work we do is directly related to and in mutual support of those advocating for the expansion of community mental health programs that support folks in our families and communities.

The pain from the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary ripples out, and we are affected.  And in the same way, healing can ripple back when we acknowledge the interconnectedness of our love and pain and life and work toward nonviolence and care for those around us.  I am reminded this week of the strength and transformative power of collective mourning and collective action that remembers that the roots of our pain and our healing are wound together.


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