Too Close to Home
March 14, 2016
On February 20th, 2016, West Michigan was again changed forever. In the small, quaint town of Kalamazoo, Michigan a gunman went on what appears to be a random shooting rampage which resulted in 6 deaths and two critical injuries (Hall, 2016). As this university town begins to put back together the pieces, those of us living just a few short miles away, in what is considered by Forbes Magazine to be the best city to raise a family (VanRiper, 2012), remain stunned. This is far too close to home.
By now we have grown ever too accustomed to the devastation associated with the increasing amount of violence in our world. Mass shootings, natural disasters and other disruptive events have become woven, almost seamlessly, into the tapestry of our culture. As healthcare professionals, we are all familiar with the grief and loss work that comes along with trauma. We have likely spent much of our professional lives working alongside those affected by these events. Despite our familiarity, when the news of an event hits us, we still feel shock followed perhaps by sadness and empathy; but we may also feel safe knowing this devastation is neither in our neighborhood nor in our community.
But what about when it is?
We are reminded daily that the world is a big place, and that for the most part, our everyday movements are but a blip on the radar. But when a mass shooting takes place in a neighboring city, the seemingly giant world around us becomes instantly smaller. Kalamazoo, Michigan is not only the home of my favorite beer, but also home to the university where I received my master’s degree as well as home to one of my dearest friends.
When we watch the news and view the videos associated with a critical incident, our senses are often taken aback by the scenery. However these visuals may move us, the response is likely to be far more surreal when our senses pick up places we have lived, streets we have driven down, businesses we have frequented, and people we know. This identification drives home internally just how close we; ourselves may have been to the danger and just how easily this could have happened to us.
When a critical incident takes place so close to home, we tend to ask why more and we tend to feel more unsafe. Why did this happen here? Why so close to home? If a dangerous event like this can take place in Kalamazoo, then what would keep it from taking place here, in my community? Although any event such as this will likely cause us to ask why or to question our own safety, the stakes appear to be much higher when the event is close to home.
As mental health professionals, a long distance critical event may catch our attention and appeal to our empathic side, but it may not prompt us to think about how we can help those so far away. For most of us, this is due to either inability or saturation. When a crisis hits close to home, we may not only be asked to assist with community recovery, but we may also feel drawn to providing support. Even though caring for others in the aftermath of a traumatic event is our forte, when the event hits home, like it did in Kalamazoo, this is likely to be a far different experience.
Hall, R. (2016). Trail of terror: How a gunman’s rampage changed Kalamazoo. Retrieved from http://www.mlive.com/news/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2016/02/as_questions_remain_healing_be.html
VanRiper, T. (2012, April 4). The best cities for raising a family [Contributor]. Forbes. Retrieved from www.forbes.com/sites/tomvanriper/2012/04/04/the-best-cities-for-raising-a-family/#74634005cc5