Mourning

As anyone who has dealt with it will tell you, mourning is a process.

Likely, a lifelong process that has different impacts over time.

As this TED talk explains, grief is not something you move on from, but something that you move forward with.

It’s been a bit over three months since my mom’s death. Much of that time has been busy, with a lot of things that needed my attention, although I have often felt that my brain was full of holes and I wasn’t thinking clearly.

I kept hoping that I could clear out some mental space and feel that I could organize my thoughts better – and maybe even feel a bit creative, which is important as I have some poetry commitments coming up.

Instead, I’m just feeling overwhelmed and sad. I don’t feel like thinking or deciding things. I can make myself do important things, but it is difficult to feel I am doing them well.

I’ve been talking with some wise friends who have helped me to realize that where I am now is not unusual.

Or permanent.

That mourning is personal and unpredictable and meanders through the terrain of life as it will with no apparent timeframe.

I think I have cried more in the past week than any week since Mom died. I know that is okay, even though it seems sort of backwards.

I am blessed with family and friends to help me while I am in this frame of mind and am trying to muster the energy to ask for help when I need it, although even that can be difficult when organized thought feels like so much work.

But I’m okay. Really. Please don’t worry about me.

It’s just grief.

another sad day in the US

I will probably get back to post about Slovenia later today, but right now, all I can think about is the horrible juxtaposition of the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. So many dead. So many wounded. So many times we in the United States turn on our televisions to have them filled with police officers behind crime tape and press conferences with politicians and police chiefs updating the death toll and the condition of the wounded and what we know about the perpetrator.

Each new iteration feels like a surreal retelling of the same story. Different details. Same shock, grief, and bewilderment.

People ask, “How could it happen here?” It can happen anywhere in the United States. A school. A church. A store. A nightclub. A workplace. A movie theater. Any day. Any time.

It happened a few miles away from my home in April, 2009.

Many of us have made pleas for stricter gun laws, which sometimes works at the state level. Many of us have advocated for better mental health care, which sometimes works at the state level. But state borders are easily crossed, so we need action at the federal level.

Increasingly, though, the perpetrators appear not to be suffering from mental illness. Instead, they are shooting at people as an expression of hatred, because of race or religion or national origin or sexual orientation or some other difference that, in their viewpoint, sets “us” against “them.”

It is hateful rhetoric turned into hate-fueled action.

I don’t know if that brand of rhetoric stops, it will lead to fewer deaths and injuries, but it is well-worth trying, especially if it is replaced by respectful conversation where people of differing viewpoints actually listen to one another.

It may sound like a pipe dream, but it is possible. There are already people in both the public and private sphere who model this behavior.

It’s something we can all do, in addition to the oft-requested thoughts and prayers.

Today, I am renewing my commitment to respectful dialogue. Will you?

Handel, the ACA, and Parkland

On Saturday, my daughters E and T and I, with Baby ABC in tow, attended a choral sing of Handel’s Messiah Part I plus Hallelujah Chorus. The Madrigal Choir of Binghamton and their director Bruce Borton, choral director/professor emeritus at Binghamton University, organized the sing, with Bruce directing and Madrigal Choir members serving as soloists and section leaders. Volunteers from the Binghamton Community Orchestra provided a twenty-piece orchestra to accompany us. It was so much fun!

I had a number of friends among the choral attendees from my long-time affiliation with University Chorus. It was nice before we began to introduce ABC to friends. Her smile and wide eyes added to the already high spirits in the room. I also love every opportunity to sing with my daughters. We are all sopranos, so we get to sit together and sing.

The event featured a free-will offering for the American Civic Association, which, since 1939, has served the Binghamton area with immigration services, refugee resettlement, citizenship classes, and cultural and ethnic preservation and education.  In these days when some in the United States, including the President, are not supportive of immigration, the ACA and their work in our community are more important than ever.

Anything involving the ACA has a special poignancy because, in 2009, a mentally ill gunman opened fire there, killing fourteen and wounding four. Most of those killed were immigrants or foreign nationals affiliated with Binghamton University. There is a beautiful memorial featuring sculptures of doves in flight a short distance from the ACA building, which reopened a few months after the shooting.

When news broke of the Parkland, Florida school shooting on Valentine’s Day, I had the familiar thought of “not again” coupled with the thought that this atrocity too would probably result in “thoughts and prayers” from those in power, but no action to curb gun violence.

In 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, New York State passed the SAFE Act, which has a number of provisions on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, background checks, and mental health. It doesn’t mean that there will never be another mass shooting in New York, but violent crime rates have fallen. New York is also proactive in making mental health treatment more available, which is important not only in preventing the small number of people with mental illness who are also violent from using firearms but also in keeping the much larger number of people who become suicidal from shooting themselves.

It seem unlikely that Florida Governor Rick Scott and the Florida legislature will enact similar policies despite the Parkland school shooting and the Orlando Pulse Nightclub massacre. It would also be possible for the United States Congress to finally listen to the vast majority of the general public and of gunowners who favor stronger background checks and other gun control measures.

Unfortunately, such action is also unlikely on the federal level, despite the horrific history of mass shootings and other gun violence and the eloquent and poignant voices of the survivors in Parkland. Sadly, this Congress and President have been moving gun policy and mental health care in the opposite direction. The first legislation DT signed as president was to rescind a rule making it more difficult for some people with mental illness to pass background checks for gun purchases. A current bill in Congress would make concealed carry permits granted by one state valid in all other states. The Trump budget calls for cuts in mental health care funding. These and comments from Congressional leadership indicate that the platitudes will continue without any meaningful action to prevent further bloodshed.

In the 2018 Congressional election, the candidates’ stance on gun control and on mental health care will definitely be important in my decision-making. Millions of others will join me and maybe we will finally get some national legislation to help reduce the plague of gun violence in the United States.

another mass shooting

Another week, another horrific mass shooting in America.

Another post I did not want to have occasion to write.

As some of you know, I live in the Binghamton, New York area, which was the scene of a 2009 mass shooting at the American Civic Association. Because of this, I know that these crimes can happen anywhere in our country. We lost the sense of “it can’t happen here” years ago.

Every time there is another mass shooting, much of the public response seems the same. “It’s a mental health issue, not a gun issue.” (Unless it is Muslim shooter, in which case it is a terrorism issue, not a gun issue.) “It’s disrespectful to talk about gun control when people are in mourning.” Corollary: we can talk about gun control later, except that we as a country are always in mourning/recovery from a mass shooting because they happen so frequently, so the “appropriate time” for the discussion never arrives. “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms.” “The guns were all legally purchased.” “This (insert gun control proposal here) would not have stopped (insert particular mass shooting here) from happening.”

Enough. Time for a reality check.

The issue is complicated. It needs and deserves thoughtful analysis and strategies to prevent future incidences. It needs and deserves consistent attention from the public and from public officials, because it is about the health, safety, and well-being of individuals and the country.

Yes, the mental health treatment system in the United States needs to be more robust, affordable, and compassionate. The shooter at the ACA was known to be mentally ill; his father begged the state of New York not to issue him a gun license, but the laws at the time allowed it. To its credit, New York made some legal changes to tighten qualifications for gun licenses and accessories like high-capacity magazines. New York has also made mental health treatment more accessible, as has the Affordable Care Act on the national level. Anyone who is serious about preventing mass shootings and other forms of violence needs to be serious about funding outreach and access to mental health services.

This leads to discussion of another characteristic that many mass shooters share, a history of domestic abuse. It lends even more weight to the current growth in public awareness of how widespread sexual harassment and assault are in our society. Abuse of all sorts is at its roots an abuse of power. Firearms in the hands of an abuser multiply the destructive force to the victim/s. Yet, too often, perpetrators of domestic or sexual violence are not prevented from owning firearms and are not adequately treated for their mental health problems.

The second amendment to the US Constitution is usually quoted only in part, only about the right to keep and bear arms not being infringed. If one reads the whole amendment and looks at the historical context, it is clear that the intent of the framers had to do with militias, not an absolute individual right. In July of 2016, I had a guest viewpoint on gun control published in the local paper; you can read it here. I think it can help to consider other military arms at this point. Do you think the second amendment gives individuals the right to own a rocket-propelled grenade launcher or a nuclear missile? Those are “arms,” as well. Should a military assault rifle be considered differently?

…which leads to my next point. We need to look at what kind of guns and accessories are available for sale to the general public. Fully automatic weapons are banned, so why is it legal to sell bump stocks that make semi-automatics behave like fully automatic weapons? Hunting for game is an old and time-honored tradition and most people use hunting rifles for this purpose. Even for the minority of hunters who use assault-type weapons, it seems that high-capacity magazines are not necessary. If you need thirty bullets to take down your prey, you are not skilled enough be hunting. I think that weapons designed for military use should not be in the hands of civilians and hope that Congress will again consider an assault weapons ban.

There should be public health research about guns and gun violence. Federal funding for this kind of research has been highly restricted due to the gun lobby’s leverage with members of Congress. Sadly, the presence of a gun in a household increases the risk that someone in the household will die or be injured with a gun. There are many heart-breaking instances of children inadvertently killing a sibling or friend after finding and playing with a gun in their home. Most people do not know that the majority of gun fatalities in the United States are suicides. Obviously, this ties into the mental health topic as well, but I don’t think that people who buy a gun for protection realize that owning a gun increases the chances that someone in the household will be injured or killed by a gun instead of protecting against that. People need all of these public health facts to inform their decisions and viewpoints.

Today – and every day – are appropriate ones to discuss and work on issues surrounding gun violence. There is never a day when someone is not mourning death or injury by guns, whether through mass shootings or other crimes, accident, or suicide. This is not an insoluble problem; nearly every other country has managed to cut gun deaths to low levels per capita.

The United States can do it, too.

Let’s begin today.

Alzheimer’s article

A blogger-friend Susan Cushman posted a link to this excellent article on dealing with Alzheimer’s disease.

There is significant history of Alzheimer’s disease in my family. My paternal grandfather and two of my aunts and one uncle were affected. We are very lucky that my dad, who is now ninety, has not been affected and is well past the age at which his own father and his siblings first had symptoms.

My parents have also had many friends who have developed Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. ¬†There was so much in Dasha Kiper’s piece that was familiar to me from listening to my parents, from symptoms to everyday life to reactions of caregivers and family.

Enough from me, because the article is on the longer side and I’d much rather you spent your time reading Ms. Kiper’s words rather than mine.