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Newtown counselors discuss how to cope with tragedy

| Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Murrysville, Export and Delmont have joined the small fellowship of communities across the country linked by terrible violence.

It's not a list most expected Franklin Regional School District to be a part of, alongside schools like Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech. As the school community begins to heal, those who have been down the path of recovery say the road is a long and unpredictable one.

Three hundred and forty miles north of Murrysville lies Newtown, Conn., where after 16 months, the wounds of losing 20 children in one of the worst school shootings in American history still are fresh. Anxiety still runs high in that community, leaders say – and that is to be expected.

“(The shooting) really shook this community,” Monsignor Bob Weiss of St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church in Newtown said Tuesday. “We really are still struggling with psychological anxiety.”

He is one of those dealing with sleeplessness and jumping at sirens, the slam of a door or the thud of a dropped book.

Those feelings – along with guilt and sadness – are typical, said Dr. Jill Barron, a lecturer at Yale University who spent 14 months as a trauma mental health advisor for Newtown. Barron developed a 20-page community needs assessment to offer knowledge and advice to different sectors of the community following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Every tragedy is unique, Barron said. But there are two concepts that are necessary for healing and societal change.

“As a society, we must recognize, value and conceptualize the integration of an individual's overall wellness to include their physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual well being,” Barron wrote in her assessment. “As a society, if we truly value children, we must adequately provide meaningful support to the systems that nurture, guide, care for and protect them through the process of education, strengthening and empowerment.”

Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver, spiritual leader of Congregation Adath Israel of Newtown, said a community will struggle following a horrific incident.

“The issue that people struggle with the most is the tremendous sadness and shocking reality of having this happen. You couldn't make up a worse nightmare,” Praver said. “It's not something that we can really walk away from very easily, or not at all.

“It's very rare – these things don't usually happen. It's changed all of our lives a great deal.”

But from those who are helping Newtown heal, there is a common piece of advice: love each other, and don't leave one another alone.

“The common thread is the hopelessness and the fear,” Barron said. “What people really need after something like this is to be together.”

Praver turned to the Bible.

“In the Bible, it's not good for Adam to be alone,” Praver said. “A human being generally is a social animal. We tend to be in a pack, be with people.”

Weiss also encourages victims and community members to reach out to one another.

“Have faith. Lean on the things that really matter – faith, family, friends – and regain perspective of what really matters in life,” Weiss said. “Don't be afraid to hug, to reach out to anyone. You never know how a person is feeling.”

Praver agreed – those affected by the attacks need love, whether it's drawing out those who are keeping to themselves, making a donation to help pay for victim expenses or something as simple as cooking an extra meal for a neighbor.

“Don't be afraid you will say the wrong thing. The worst thing to do is nothing,” Praver said. “Ninety percent of it is just showing up.”

Weiss said his congregation and community finds solace in their faith. In the days following the Sandy Hook shooting, churches were filled as families affected and those who empathized with the victims wanted to be together.

Questioning why God allows evil is futile, he said. The question that plagues Weiss is what it means to be safe – are homes, schools, churches safe anymore?

“Don't ever say it can't happen here. It can happen anywhere,” Weiss said. “We've all had some kind of tragedy in our lives – just maybe not this severe. It makes us question what has happened to the respect for human life. Why are there people who want to destroy instead of build up?”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or dkurutz@tribweb.com.

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