5 Ways to Personally Deal with Tragedy. (Reflections after Oak Creek, Wisconsin)

A Sikh candlelight vigil, remembering the Wisconsin victims.

Tragedy can strike at any moment.

Even in the most sacred times – while you’re at the temple praying, in the midst of a divine moment. This can happen in the most sacred of places and the most public of places.

Which is exactly what happened in Wisconsin last week at the Oak Creek Sikh Gurdwara (temple). 6 people died tragically, left their families and loved ones behind and are being eulogized in funerals this week.

The tragedy, like the shootings in Colorado earlier this year, are profoundly sad, appear to be senseless and affects each one of us, no matter where we live and what religion we practice.

This is not a Sikh tragedy but a human one.

While I’m not Sikh by religion, I share a country of origin, India, where Sikhs hail from. I’ve found the people who practice the Sikh faith to be extremely devoted to their religion, peaceful, loving and kind.

Sikhs have gotten a bad rap, in America, because they wear turbans and have beards; characteristics of Osama bin Laden.

Why turbans? Not only is it one of the tenets of their religion, but as the Huffington post columnist recently pointed out, Sikh gurus instructed Sikhs to wear turbans to rebel against India’s caste system and to represent equality between poor and rich. The turban was encouraged to be worn by all classes of Sikhs to represent equality in God’s eyes.

It’s unknown why the lone gunman in Wisconsin unleashed this horrific act of violence against this devoted and peaceful community. But the tragedy has once again confronted us as a community, as a society and as individuals.

How do we personally deal with pain and suffering when tragedy strikes?

Here are 5 ways:

1) Reflect. When tragedy strikes, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, feed off stereotypes and hatred and take action we may regret later.

Instead, after a tragedy strikes, reflect. Reflect upon what happened, reflect upon your feelings and how the tragedy impacted you. Try to understand why you’re feeling the way you are.

Observe anger, the sadness and the other emotions the tragedy causes within you.

2) Gather and reach out. When tragedy struck in Wisconsin, Sikhs around the United States had vigils in many gurdwaras around the country. This was a time for communities to gather and meet each; to comfort each other and try to collectively understand what happened.

While you may want to reflect on the tragedy yourself, you may find it helpful to be with others and reflect as a group. You may feel like you’re less alone and feel a stronger support network. By reaching out to others, you’ll be help others more seriously affected by the tragedy to move forward.

Here are a couple photos of the the beautiful candlelight vigil and prayer I attended in San Jose, California where the community gathered and mourned together:

Lighting candles in remembrance.
In reflection
Community gathers for candlelight vigil.

3) Learn and understand. Tragedies present you with an opportunity for better learning and understanding.

Ask yourself what the tragedy means to you and your community?

Did the tragedy happen because of stereotypes, hatred, ignorance or some other reason?

What caused the tragedy and what can be done to avoid similar happenings in the future? Is it time to improve the cultural dialogue? Time to reach out and get to know our neighbors? Time to deal with mental health issues?

Learning and understanding from a tragedy is not only a healing process but can help make you and those affected even stronger than before and help your community avoid it in the future.

4) Help and give. When others are going through man-made or natural tragedies, we might want to sit home and mourn. It’s easier to watch television and empathize with the affected people than to actually do something.

Instead, see what you can do to help those impacted by the tragedy.

Ask yourself what you can do to help. Although tragedies seem to happen far away from us, they are not that far away. It probably happened in a community similar to yours with the same types of neighbors, same types of issues  and similar people.

What can you do to help others and give back? Can it be as simple as making a donation? Is it putting together a care package? Is it writing notes of support and reaching out to the victims?

Is it championing an issue or cause that the tragedy raised?

Doing something, anything, in the face of tragedy, is also a healing activity that can help you move on. Helping others by rebuilding a community or giving back allows you to take something sad and hopeless and make it positive, as Sikh community leader, Valerie Kaur, noted about the emerging generation of Sikh Americans in her recent Washingtong Post article.

5) Take time to heal. We don’t heal overnight. Healing takes time. Reflect, learn, understand and take time to heal when tragedy strikes – especially when it’s close to you or your community.

Don’t continuously reflect upon the tragedy and take a break from it if you’re able to. Try living as normally as possible, do things you love, meet up with friends and try to partake in your regular daily activities.

Also, let’s not kid ourselves, tragedies can have psychological and emotional impact. Some events can trigger emotional or psychological wounds especially if you’ve experienced something similar before.

If you need the help of a counselor or psychologist; seek it. Just talking to someone else about what happened may help you come to terms with the incident and help you move on.

What do you do when tragedy strikes? How have you dealt with tragedy in the past? How can we heal, reflect and move on with our lives? Please share in the comments below. 

16 Comments

  1. This makes my heart really sad. There are so many hurting people that need help, that aren’t getting it. I feel like we have such a spiritual void in this country and we need it so badly to heal and move forward in a positive light. Your messages of light are helping us go in that direction. Have a great week, Vishnu!

    1. Hi Wendy, these tragedies are becoming a bit too common in our country. We do need to start living from a more spiritual place which is of course the item I forgot to mention in my post but glad you brought it up:)

  2. Hi Vishnu,

    Yes it is true. Tragedy can strike at any time. This is why I am constantly alert and always look a few steps ahead with my daily, weekly and monthly divinations to minimize disasters in my life and the lives of those around me where possible. In truth, safety is a myth. As the recent shootings have shown, tragedy can happen any time, anywhere for reasons we may fail to grasp until it is too late.

    But you’re right. Every tragedy that results in a senseless loss of life is a human tragedy. Thankfully, you have put together 5 great ways to deal with pain and suffering when tragedy strikes. These are the ones that stand out most for me.

    3. Learn and understand:

    We should always be learning from the things that go on around us. Just because it happens to others, doesn’t mean it cannot happen to us. To be complacent and to make assumptions that we are save would only cause the tragedy to hit us doubly hard because we were not expecting it.

    Prevention is always better than cure. We should examine the roots of each tragedy to see what steps we can take to prevent a repeat. It is pointless to point fingers and blame others when the worst has already happened. It is more responsible if we made the effort to ensure things do not go down the same path again in the future. Otherwise, the lives lost would have been in vain.

    5. Take time to heal:

    Take as much time as needed to heal. If a tragedy happens to us, we need to take as much time as we need to heal. We need to make sense of what happened so that we can go on living bravely. This may involve reframing the tragedy in a meaningful way that empowers instead of cripples us.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article!

    Irving the Vizier

    1. hi Vizier, those points you made are a couple of the more important ones. Reframing the tragedy so we can deal with it better is a great strategy so we can use the event to empower instead of crippling us.

      Safety is indeed a myth:) We can take a lot of precautions but not just physical violence but natural disasters too – we never know when they are going to strike and sometimes have very little time to prepare for them. A lot of times we have to deal with the aftermath and figure out ways to cope.

      Thanks for your comments Vizier and for dropping by.

  3. Such a thoughtful, beautifully written article. You have given us all great advice to follow when we are confronted by tragedies in our lives and the lives of others.
    Blessings to you!

  4. I will admit, I have very limited knowledge on how to deal with tragedy. Yes, I have faced tragedy but I’m not real conscious of my process.

    I think the most powerful step for me was the last step you mention. I have the type of personality that wants to conquer everything. I want to find the most effective and efficient way to do everything. The simple reality is that this isn’t a healthy way to deal with tragedy. I have to be willing to sit with it and be patient in allowing myself to move through the process.

    I think the big challenge is that every tragedy is very unique in how it impacts our emotions. Also, it is very difficult to be rational in these moments of struggle.

    That being said, little reminders (such as this post) can help be used as a reminder when tragedy does strike. It helps to read this because it is grounding.

    1. thanks for the feedback Izzy. sitting back and allowing time to pass while we heal is hard for us who want to get involved and make things happen. also very easy to get caught up in tragic events in our lives. sometimes we just have to let go and like you say, allow ourselves to slowly move through the process.

  5. My instinct is to avoid tragedy by trying to control things I can’t control. When that doesn’t work (and it never does), then denial. When that doesn’t work (and it never does), then I start through the steps you list. In fact, I had an opportunity to practice them just in the last few days.

    When tragedy strikes, it often brings people together, just as you described. My challenge is how to come together without excluding anyone, including the one or ones whose actions let to the tragedy.

    Sometimes all I can manage to do is belly breathe.

    Lovely (and timely!) post.

  6. Thanks for your feedback Galen. While we all prefer to avoid or deny tragedy in our lives, they do happen and we have to face them one way or the other. These are just some ways I know how.

    I know what you mean by coming together and not trying to exclude anyone, especially those that caused the tragedy. I didn’t think about that. How do you come together with those that caused the tragedy – that’s a challenging question and can be difficult to reconcile sometimes.

  7. Hi Vishnu,

    Very interesting post.

    I think each individual has their own way of dealing with tragedy. All the comments before this make some excellent points. As Galen pointed out sometimes we need to go through denial before we can actually embark on the healing process, in order to protect and prepare.

    1. Hi Keith – you’re right. We each have our own way. Here are some that have worked for me and what I noticed out of the Wisconsin tragedy. Denial can be helpful sometimes to healing. When it’s too difficult to accept something at first, denial has got to be a coping mechanism. Thanks for your comments.

  8. Beautifully written. I really enjoyed your views and glad to know that people with your thinking exist….. especially after reading some bigotted and senseless views on the comments section about the French ban on the turban. There were lot of Indians ( non-sikhs) supporting the ban and calling the wearing of a turban as a senseless and meaningless ritual in this modern day and age. Especially considering, that different styles of turbans were worn more commonly by hindus in India before the britishers managed to “westernize” it. If only we could all be more accepting and understanding despite our differences such tragedies would not occur anywhere in the world…

    1. I love the French but not so sure about some of their policies and responses to cultural/religious practices. That’s not the first position of that sort they’ve taken.

      I don’t think any religion or group of people should make cultural or religious judgment on others. Or taking positions on what rituals matter and which don’t. I’m sure the media didn’t help either and helped point out the many difference of opinions and to further divide people of different faiths and religions.

      You’re right – more cultural and religious tolerance would reduce tragedies around the world. Thanks for your feedback and comments.

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