Concentric Circles of Grief

One morning last week, in a meeting I almost forgot to attend, my coworker was too wired to focus on our meeting agenda. She’d been out walking her dog the night before, chatting with a friend she hadn’t seen in a while. They were about a mile from home when they heard gunshots and a woman screaming.

“I’m calling 911!” She reached for her phone.

“We could call the non-emergency number.”

“Gunshots? Screaming? I’m calling 911.”

The 911 officer heard her report and immediately responded, “Ma’am, I can see where you are located. You need to take shelter. Now!”

They ran to a nearby house and knocked on the door. An elderly couple let them all in – both women and the dog. My friend phoned her husband, explained the situation, and asked him to come get her, her friend, and the dog. He had a hard time getting into the neighborhood, weaving his way in between the cop cars and ambulances and even the SWAT team truck. Their 8 year old, riding along in the back seat, was visibly shook.

There was a terrible tragedy in our community that night – a murder suicide fueled by domestic violence. My friend had not seen the violence, but she heard it. She was touched by it.

Imagine a pebbles dropped in water. The woman’s family, the man’s family, and their surviving children are in the middle circle. My friend, her friend, and their families are in a close circle. They witnessed the action indirectly and felt the violence that disrupted their peaceful evening.

I’m in an outer circle. I listened to her story, held her and listened again when she found out that the couple so violently killed were friends of hers, neighbors down the road until a few months earlier when they’d bought their first house. Her children knew them, knew their children. Her tween-aged daughter had babysat for the youngest children in the family. The near-inner circles were growing now, making room for these three young people facing this unspeakable tragedy.

Once again it’s Brahms. Remember my piano teacher’s wisdom, shared when I was a teen? She never knew what to say at funerals, and she struggled to play Brahms. After her husband died, she learned that there is nothing to say that can help. All you can do it be there. And then she found she understood Brahms.

I can’t take away this grief that sudden and terrible grief my friend has suffered. The memory will stay with her and with her husband and her children forever. All I can do is be there. She is organizing a fundraiser for the surviving children. It won’t replace their awful loss – nothing could. But it gives people a way to show that they care. It gives people a chance to be there.

 

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