Messages were left at a memorial in the parking lot of Kamiak High School in Mukilteo this week after a community vigil for the victims of a shooting that killed three teenagers and wounded another. (Genna Martin/seattlepi.com via AP)

It’s natural for our wounded community to feel fear and anger

  • Wednesday, August 3, 2016 11:43am
  • Life

By Paul Schoenfeld

The Everett Clinic

On Monday, I took a trip out to the Harbour Point Everett Clinic to meet with staff and providers who were reeling from the emotional impact of the recent murders in Mukilteo.

Dr. Stephen Dahlberg, a long-time family doctor in the community, realized that their staff would need support. One of the team, a mom, was worried about the safety of her young children. “How can I be sure that my kids are safe when something like this can happen in our city?” she asked.

An act of mass murder that happens down the street is startling, frightening and overwhelming. How can something like this happen in our community? These events create a sense of insecurity in all of us. Our feelings of safety and predictability are blown up in a single instant.

The boy who was hospitalized in Seattle is the son of one of our providers. Our hearts were hurting for him and his family. Staff weren’t sure what to do, or how to share their feelings. I suggested that they send the family a card with their good wishes. It feels good to do something, even if it’s small compared to the size of your feelings. And if you are going through a life crisis, It’s nice to know that others are thinking about you.

Another parent in the room knew the kids at the party, the victims and the alleged perpetrator. She was still trying to wrap her head around what happened. Her teen had thought about going to this party, but ended up not going. She was feeling thankful for that. But a near miss when it comes to your kids shakes parents up. In this community, most everyone knows each other.

Another team member’s teen knew the kids, too. He wasn’t talking to his parents about his feelings, but instead, gravitated towards his peers. She wondered — “How do I get him to talk to us about his experience?”

It’s challenging for teens to share their feelings with parents, even if they have a good relationship. Adolescents don’t like to be interviewed. I suggested that she simply spend some time with him, take him out for lunch and share her own feelings. That can create an opportunity for her son to open up.

Another parent wondered if it was OK to ask her children’s playmates’ parents if they have guns at home and whether they are secured. Many families do have firearms — but are they safely secured? In this day and age, it seems like a reasonable question to ask other parents.

One young staff person poked at her lunch. “I’m just mad,” she said. “I’m just really angry!” I understand how she feels. I’m mad too.

I’m mad that a teenage boy is old enough to buy an assault rifle even when he is too young to buy a beer.

I’m mad that three children won’t have a future. I’m mad that their families will have a hole in their lives that cannot be filled.

I’m mad that the kids at the party will never be able to forget what happened that night and what they witnessed. I’m mad that parents in Mukilteo will forever worry when their teenagers go to a chill party on a beautiful summer evening.

I’m mad that families never get over the loss of a child — it’s not something that you “get over.” I’m mad that in a bad moment, this teenager with his adolescent brain, had access to weapon of mass destruction. Without that gun, that bad moment might have passed and become a better moment.

I’m mad that we will all be struggling with this weeks and months from now, trying to understand something that makes no sense to anyone. And I’m mad that once again, I am called to provide support to our bereaved community for something that should never have happened.

Dr. Paul Schoenfeld is director of The Everett Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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