Let's Not Forget About The Survivors

by Kristina Wright

What about the survivors? I keep thinking about this. The thought won’t leave my mind. After the shooting is over and the blood has been shed, what about the survivors? Not just the ones in the hospital with bullet wounds, but the ones who were at the school that day. The ones who saw or heard the gunshots. The ones who saw the bodies, the blood, the chaos.

What about them? Are they lucky? Is that what you call it?

When you have a school of 3,000+ students and teachers, the slaughter of 17 people is going to be felt by more than 17 families. It’s felt by 3,000+ people and their families. At least. What about them? How do those kids go back to school and return to normal? Their “normal” now involves things that no adult, much less a child, should have to witness. And the experience is with them for the rest of their lives.

What about those kids, whose brains and bodies are still developing? Whose minds are now clouded with horror? How many of them can just pick up and go on with their lives? Could you? I don’t think I could.

PTSD can be as insidious and deadly as a bullet. But what do they do? Who provides the therapy they will need for a year, ten years, the rest of their lives? How many of them will need medication for anxiety and depression for the foreseeable future? How many of them will turn teenage experimentation with alcohol and drugs into their own kind of therapy? How many of them will kill themselves rather than live with survivor’s guilt? How many of them will do risky and dangerous things with the teenage mentality that, “If the shooter didn’t kill me, nothing will?”

Seventeen people die and the ripples are felt everywhere, in every state and in every school. Kids are scared, parents are anxious, and teachers — my god, the poor teachers — how do you even carry on being a role model in a classroom when you’re waiting for the next shooting?

My husband is a 28 year Navy veteran and I worry about him at least as much now that he’s a middle school teacher as I did when he was in the military. Maybe more, because teaching a classroom of children should be safer than serving in the military. Should be. But I have two kids in elementary school and a husband who is a teacher and I worry every time the phone rings on a school day.

How do the survivors live their lives now, knowing that nothing will change? Knowing that there will — no doubt about it– be another school shooting if something isn’t done soon. Even if something is done soon. Because it takes time to enact change. It takes time to change the minds of people who believe the right to own any kind of weapon is worth the death of a few people.

But it’s not a few. It’s 33,000 people a year, dying by gun violence — over half of them suicides — and that hasn’t led to any meaningful changes. Now we’re dealing with mass shootings at schools, concerts, movie theaters, nightclubs. How do the survivors make lives for themselves, knowing that nothing has changed and it might (will) happen again?

We talk about the victims, the deaths, the tragedy of it all. And it is tragic. I’d say it’s unthinkable, but I think about it all the time it seems. The most tragic part of the whole situation is that it will happen again. If you don’t know someone who has been affected by a mass shooting, it’s only a matter of time before it touches your life, or the life of someone you know.

So let’s talk about the survivors, too. Let’s talk about the toll a mass shooting takes on a community and what happens to those kids and teachers five, ten, twenty years down the road. How many alcoholics? How many drug addicts? How many who just can’t cope, so they simply don’t leave the house? How many who need therapy, but can’t afford it (because guns are easier to get than health care)? How many who can’t form healthy, trusting relationships because the place they should have been safest in the world became a war zone?

Once the victims have been laid to rest and the shooter has been tried and convicted, what about the survivors?

I need to know, because I can’t stop thinking about it, worrying about them, worrying about my family — and yours. Worrying about all of us. And I have no neat conclusion, no solution, no words to make it better. I’m a wife, a mom, a writer, that’s all. But I just can’t stop thinking about the survivors of these mass shootings and what it’s doing to them, and to all of us, to let it to continue to happen.