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A Nation In Mourning: How We Cope

Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil outside the Edmond Town Hall, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children.
AP Photo/David Goldman
Mourners gather for a candlelight vigil outside the Edmond Town Hall, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children.

Many of us following the news out of Newtown, Conn., do not have a personal relationship with those murdered Friday. Some of us may not have children whom we need to guide as they see images from the scene.

Yet even without these connections, many people are looking for ways to process their grief and mourn the victims.

"Everybody is just rocked by this disaster," Pastor Eugene Peterson tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz. "The depth of relationship that's in our nation comes to the surface at times like this, which I'm glad for. It doesn't mitigate the suffering, the mourning, the loss, but it does give witness."

Peterson, a retired Presbyterian minister and author of The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, says some of the best advice he could offer pastors currently preparing for Sunday services has nothing to do with words.

"Silence is sometimes the best thing to do — holding a hand, hugging somebody," Peterson says. "I say, 'Don't say anything. Just hold their hand. Hold them. Hug them and just stay around for an hour or so in silence and just be there.' That's what we need at times like this, an affirmation of the sacredness of life."

Even on social media, the need to offer comfort was apparent in Facebook updates, tweets and photos posted in response to the shooting.

"What the world needs now is love, love, love," New York resident Laura Heywood wrote on Facebook.

After following news surrounding the shooting as it unfolded on social media, NPR's Andy Carvin tweeted: "Time to go home and hug my kids. Please do the same with yours. Let's pick up the debates once every[one] has a chance to grieve. RIP #newtown."

Taylor Jones, 23, who hosts the blog Dear Photograph, posted a photo Saturday morning showing a simple marquee in the middle of a grassy lane that reads, "WHAT THIS WORLD NEEDS IS A GROUP HUG"

So far, the photo has been shared more than 1,000 times.

Jones, who primarily posts photographs from the past, set in the present, explained in an email his decision for posting the photo:

"Honestly, I know hugging isn't going to fix the problem. But I know when I go home and see my family during Christmas next week I'll be looking forward to giving my Mom and Dad a hug. So, this is just a small reminder to everyone to make someone feel loved while we're all still here. I feel horrible for the families and the community of Newtown."

Small acts like these help us recover, says Dr. Elaine Ducharme, a clinical psychologist and trauma expert in Glastonbury, Conn.,

In an interview with NPR's Scott Simon on Weekend Edition, Ducharme says "decisive actions" like cooking a family dinner "can help us feel like we're doing something to get us out of that stuck place of just feeling so fragile and vulnerable."

The advice trauma specialists will be offering the children and families directly affected by the shootings can also help the rest of us, Ducharme says.

"One of the things that most often happens after a tragedy is people start reaching out to each other," she says. "Talking to people, talking to parents and friends, that really helps us when feeling alone."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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