December 2nd, 2015 was a day like no other in the history of our Inland Empire. Thanksgiving was just past. The holidays were approaching. Schools were going to be out soon for local kids and college students. Holiday parties at work and on weekends were starting to move into our calendars and planning. We’d had rain, and the mountains were topped with snow, surrounding our communities.
And then. Shots fired. News channels exploded. Social media filled with scary images that seemed like they must be from some other place. Not from here. Not in San Bernardino. Not the Inland Regional Center, where kids with special needs go for services with their families.
The day got longer. Images of employees being evacuated. Families are searching for information. Realizations that people who were shot or killed were friends or friends of friends. A car chase. More shooting. A city shut down. Schools locked down. Hospitals locked down. Law enforcement is converging from seemingly everywhere. CNN and others are speculating about terrorism. Was there more coming?
It seemed to go on forever for those close by, and those who were worrying and unable to get information about loved ones. Those who were not targeted witnessed things they can’t ever forget. They heard it. They locked down and waited for SWAT to arrive and get them to safety. Those with no connections shared the trauma. This was happening in our Inland Empire. The place the coastal communities seemed to disdain and that locals defend even when they may not want to. But now we were all watching a mass shooting in our midst. Our schools were locked down. Our community was on the news.
We had weeks and months of images, funerals, memorials. We were “San Bernardino Strong” and “IE Strong.” The Regional Center was shrouded in fencing and tarps. Just as things started to settle a bit, there was another release of information, graphic pictures of what occurred, police reports with far too many details.
And here we are now. One year later. The survivors are facing moments of silence on Friday. Families are facing the first year finally being over. Those who were on the grounds are trying to feel normal again, and hearing that this did not happen to them and they should be okay and go on with their lives now. Is that realistic?
From my perspective, as a therapist and a grief specialist, I am not sure what normal would even feel like for those directly impacted by the events that day: those who were in that building facing the shooters; those who watched from the windows above and who were unsure if there were more attacks coming> The first responders who charged in and had to look for attackers before turning to saving lives; the families who waited for hours to be sure their loved ones were safe- or not. The secondary victims: kids who lost a beloved teacher; college classmates who lost a friend or roommate; colleagues near and far of those killed or in the same department in the surrounding areas. Families who have kids who are seen at the IRC and have to face their fears as they approach the grounds now; and of course, families whose loved ones were murdered in that room and building. Our community was traumatized seeing the day unfold, and realizing we really are not safe from terrorism, and that terrorists may have gone to high school with us. Normal? It’s different now. It always will be. Our collective trauma and grief have changed us as a community.
So how do we mark this one year mark? How do we say the right thing, or not do too much or too little? Here are my thoughts:
· Grief is an individual process- what impacts one of us may not impact others. Let’s remember nobody is right or wrong in how they mark this day (or don’t).
· Trauma in our past absolutely impacts how we cope with new trauma. Those who have previously survived loss and trauma will struggle more with this than those who have not. This will trigger deeper feelings attached to the old traumas and losses. Allow for that, and give them the space they need.
· Everyone marks anniversaries differently.
· Drawing on what worked in past losses is a great way to cope with moments like this Friday.
This is a day none of us ever thought would happen here. Let’s support those hurting, and understand that those who need support may not ask for it. Let’s be especially sensitive and listen to people who need us.
If you need help or know someone who does, please reach out to us at Central Counseling Services. We can be reached at (951) 778-0230, or centralcounselingservices.com