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Coping with a tragedy — without coddling ourselves

Uploaded: Jun 9, 2021
Several years ago, I had lunch with a local police chief and realized he was a bit silent. “Everything okay?” I asked. “Well, not quite,” he responded. “My son died four weeks ago.”

We talked about that death, and how he felt, and how his wife was doing. “I’m the lucky one,” he said. He had a job to do, which kept him busy all day long, and he has, as ever, been focused on his work. “My wife is home all day alone, and all she does is think about the death of her son.”

I understood completely, and have reflected on his wife’s grieving and the reason for her intense sorrow – her aloneness – for a long time. If you are home all day long, alone, all you think about is what is bothering you the most.

Which brings me to the tragic death of nine individuals plus the gunman when a San Jose man entered the VTA yards in downtown San Jose early in the morning. The shooter, 57-year-old San Jose resident Samuel Cassidy, who fired 39 rounds, targeting victims, was a disgruntled VTA employee. His home, when searched, was filled with numerous high-speed weapons and he, for years, had complained about his work and how other employees had it better.ir

The VTA’s solution, with some obvious pressure from the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 in San Jose, was to give all VTA employees weeks off to attend funerals, mourn, and try to recover from the incident. As a result, VTA officials ordered all transit to stop – all buses in the county and all light rail. Four weeks later, the closedown is still continuing. With no predictions as to when the VTA would be operating again.

I understand the traumas of the VTA people coping with the death of fellow workers. It’s tough.

I know death. One of my sons died four years ago of a sudden cardiac arrest. He was in good health, we all thought, but his father and his grandfather died of similar heart attacks. I feel that part of me is gone because of his death, but there is nothing I, nor anyone, can do about it. Just go forward.

I thought about what the police chief had told me about his wife. If the VTA employees are sitting at home all day, or even going out and about, is this the best way to recover from this traumatic incident?

And what about all the VTA commuters who used light rail and the buses to get to work each day? They obviously had to find other ways to get to work – drive their car, or carpool, bike, or take a taxi or Uber – and how much is this costing them in time and money? Did the VTA take this into consideration? And just as important, VTA has had fewer users during the coronavirus shutdown. Will this deliberate stoppage of their services encourage people to go back and use VTA when it reopens -- or will they just say, forget about it?

My second line of questioning is are we today exaggerating some experiences we’ve been through recently? Like the corona virus shutdown, and now the idea of going back to work. I heard three different psychiatrists interviewed on TV, all of whom said we had gone through “a lot,” and, of course, we have to adjust and slowly proceed back into the real world, rather than stay home because of the virus. Many, they said, are afraid of going back to work so they have to adapt slowly Take a short and then a longer walk around the block, go to a small store, adjust to being with other people and then slowly get back into being at your job.

Hogwash!

I say, perhaps unfairly you think, that I am delighted to be with people again—to actually see my children after more than a year (I was very cautious, as were they), to eat indoors at a restaurant, to have my book club over for a meeting. (We have all had our two covid shots.)

I am speaking to the adults reading this. As an adult, we have all at some point, adjusted to several severe occurrences in our lives – sick children unexpected work layoffs, a necessary operation with lots of needed recuperation, a bad boss, a child with a difficult problem, an endless work search. And, I hope, most of us made it through without glorifying our sad feelings.

Lest I seem too unkind, I empathize and understand.

But remember what that police chief said. I think he was, and, is, correct in the best way to go forward
We need your support now more than ever. Can we count on you?

Comments

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Posted by Bystander, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Jun 9, 2021 at 1:11 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

The best picture I saw recently along these lines was from a young teen graduating high school. The previous day her father was killed by a disgruntled fellow worker, a firefighter, similar scenario to the VTA attack you mention. She graduated wearing her father's firefighting jacket over her gown. The audience was full of support from other firefighters, not just firefighters who knew her father but from other departments too.

I felt a need to think about that picture when I saw it. I felt a need to mention it here. Congratulations to the young graduate and best wishes for her future.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Anne, a resident of another community,
on Jun 10, 2021 at 4:46 am

Anne is a registered user.

I would like to point out that the tragic shooting at the VTA light rail yard occurred on May 26, 2021, exactly two weeks before this blog post, not four weeks before, as indicated by the poster.

In my area, which is San Jose, the bus service is running and has never stopped. The light rail was stopped on May 26th, but I noticed a light rail car running yesterday, June 9th. Of course, everyone hopes to be back to normal after such an occurrence. However, the official investigation by the Santa Clara's Sheriff Department hasn't yet allowed people back into the light rail yard, which is the only place the light rail cars can be worked on mechanically.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Jennifer, a resident of another community,
on Jun 10, 2021 at 7:39 am

Jennifer is a registered user.

I agree with Diana. Moving forward is healthy. I also need to keep in mind that not everyone is as strong as I am. Some people have better coping skills than others.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Robert Deacon, a resident of Woodside,
on Jun 10, 2021 at 8:14 am

Robert Deacon is a registered user.

For some people (such as myself) who are reclusive, the modern everyday world has no real allure and if curious, a somewhat accurate and vicarious experience (whether good or bad) can be easily attained via modern cable television, internet streaming etc.

Key household items and clothing can be conveniently ordered and home delivered from Costco or Amazon and most of the larger grocery store chains deliver groceries.

The key is to have convenient access to as much open space (both indoors and outdoors) as possible.

I can easily see how being sequestered in a small apartment or studio might become depressing over an extended period of time but it is a different inner world to look out one's window and be surrounded by acres of undeveloped wild and hills...all yours!

Most people easily adapt and/or enjoy a return to their own individual preferences and habits whether good or bad ones.

For the hardcore suit types who feel they must be in the office at all times, sleeping in and wearing a bathrobe all day probably took some getting used to but for others it was a miracle gift from the God of Casual Culture.

As for the recent VTA tragedy and others, we must ask ourselves, "how could this have been prevented?" and there is no cut and dried answer as there will always be guns and mental illness.




 +  Like this comment
Posted by W. Reller, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jun 10, 2021 at 2:59 pm

W. Reller is a registered user.

Well done Diana, well done!


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Jeremy Erman, a resident of Midtown,
on Jun 10, 2021 at 10:31 pm

Jeremy Erman is a registered user.

Diana, VTA did not order "all transit to stop." Only light rail is shut down. The bus system never stopped running, although VTA has warned there could be occasional lack of bus service if employees are not available. But this week, in fact, other transit systems loaned VTA buses and drivers to keep buses running while VTA employees were at funerals and memorials.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by KOhlson, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
22 hours ago

KOhlson is a registered user.

Excellent column - thank you.
If I've learned one thing over the decades, it's that people are different - in all ways. As we hopefully enter the post-pandemic period, I am ready to embrace it. Many of those around me, not so fast. You can only respect that people are different. Certainly when dealing with intense tragedy, even more so.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mountain View Resident, a resident of North Whisman,
1 hour ago

Mountain View Resident is a registered user.

Thank you for this well-written and thoughtful article and I am very sorry for the loss of your son and husband, Diana. My mother passed away twelve years ago and I took care of her until her passing on. It was very helpful to me to have a support group from the hospital that she went to to discuss and listen to other people's feelings and emotions and memories in that time as well as to talk about my own experience and I think that somewhat like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting (which my father actually attended after he ceased his drinking and which was very beneficial for him) this is one of the most helpful and healings means to continue to live with peace and the memories of your loved one.


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