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Season's grievings: Channel anger from Sandy Hook shootings with 28 days of Christmas giving

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Sandy Hook, shooting, angels, December 2012
Memorials for victims of Sandy Hook. Imgace.com
Connecticut shooting, Sandy Hook, funeral
After a funeral service in Newtown, Connecticut. Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images
Sandy Hook, shooting, angels, December 2012
Connecticut shooting, Sandy Hook, funeral
Austin Photo: Author_Christina Pesoli

I’m having a hard time moving on after the Sandy Hook tragedy. Maybe it’s because we have had so many of these mass killings recently. Or perhaps it’s because most of the victims were so young. Or it could be the millions of emotional miles between the extreme grief caused by this massacre and the sheer joy that we are supposed to experience at Christmas. 

I try to work through my Christmas “to do” list, but then the UPS truck delivers a parcel containing a Christmas present for my 12-year-old daughter, and I think of the deliveries that are still arriving at the homes of families in Newton for children who will not be there to open them on Christmas morning. And, just like that, I am no longer in the mood to festoon shiny foil packages with oversized ribbons. 

I go about routine chores like packing my daughter’s lunch for school and my phone lights up with a cheerful text from my grown son while on his way to work, and then I imagine the families of the staff members who worked at Sandy Hook who will no longer get shout-outs from their loved ones. 

 In anger there is power — the power to propel yourself through your crisis and on to a better place. Anger can fuel action and generate growth.

Eventually I reach a tipping point with all of this sadness, and it morphs into anger. And in that moment I finally find some comfort.

I work with people who are going through divorce, coaching them on how to move forward during times of upheaval and despair. One of my key messages to my clients is this: Sadness is natural, but it is also strength-sapping. The challenge is to work through your sadness and get to the next stop: anger. 

In anger there is power — the power to propel yourself through your crisis and on to a better place. Sadness can keep you paralyzed.  But anger can fuel action and generate growth. Anger can actually make you stronger.

And given how many things make me angry about this tragedy, I should be able to single-handedly lift cars before long. On Facebook I saw one of those old-fashioned posters paired up with a contemporary caption. It read, “We have enough gun control. What we need is idiot control.” 

Calling someone an idiot who commits a massacre like the one at Sandy Hook minimizes the magnitude of this horrifying event. It’s like calling Timothy McVeigh a pest or Ted Kaczinsky a nuisance.  

People who believe there is a war on Christmas are idiots. Guys who wear shirts that say things like, “I’m not as think as you drunk I am,” are idiots. But people who murder innocent people for no apparent reason are psychopaths. There’s a big difference.

 We have to model for our children how to deal with grief and work through anger, while continuing to put one foot in front of the other, even — no, especially — when we don’t think we can.

And speaking of the “war” on Christmas, during a time when 27 people just had their lives taken, how about we save the word “war” for things that actually involve the loss of human life, not some imaginary campaign against the biggest holiday of the year?

Also floating around on Facebook is the proposal, apparently made in earnest, that in order to stop school shootings we should place three or four armed veterans at each public school. This may be the most dangerous “solution” I’ve heard for a long list of reasons, but mainly this one: Turning school safety into an arms race would not be just a wrong turn, it would be the shortest route to a dead end.

I tell my clients that our children learn how to handle hardship and tragedy from watching us. We have to model for them how to deal with grief and work through anger, while continuing to put one foot in front of the other, even — no, especially — when we don’t think we can. And when we feel like we can’t do it for ourselves, that’s when we do it for our children.

Now my challenge is to practice what I preach. I have to channel all of this anger toward something positive or else I will be wasting a precious resource and putting myself and my family at risk by stockpiling a potentially destructive emotion. I have to model for my daughter the steps involved in dealing with loss while continuing to live our lives.  I have to figure out a way to pay respect to the tragedy but still celebrate Christmas.

So, here’s my plan for converting my anger into action:

There were 26 people who lost their lives in the Sandy Hook massacre, plus the perpetrator and his mother. That’s a total of 28 people. The first 911 call was placed at 9:35 am. So, for the next 28 days, I will donate $9.35 to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence

 I have to model for my daughter the steps involved in dealing with loss while continuing to live our lives.  I have to figure out a way to pay respect to the tragedy but still celebrate Christmas.

Each daily donation will be to honor the memory of one of the lives lost and a call to action to someone whose help is needed in the effort to pass reasonable gun control legislation.  

I realize that $9.35 seems like a paltry sum — insultingly low, really — to associate with a life that has been lost. And I understand that the cumulative total of $261.80 cannot by itself finance even a single hour of a campaign that has any chance of succeeding against the vast machine that is the NRA. 

But viewed in the context of this writer’s “income,” the amount is far more substantial. It represents a way I can process my anger in a positive way. And it’s an effort my daughter can both understand and participate in.

One of my daily donations to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence was made as a tribute to the memory of Rachel Davino, a 29-year-old behavioral therapist at Sandy Hook Elementary who was days away from getting engaged, and a call for courage from Vice President Joe Biden as he oversees the efforts to get reasonable gun control legislation passed. 

Yesterday’s donation was to honor the memory of 7-year-old Daniel Barden, who dreamed of being a firefighter, and a call for courage from NRA President Wayne LaPierre to support reasonable gun control legislation.

I feel a little bit better already.  

The Sandy Hook tragedy notwithstanding, I hope everyone manages to find some peace and joy this Christmas.  

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