Ten Ways to Help Newtown’s Grieving Families

December 27, 2012 4:33 pm 1 comment

Mourners in Newtown, CT. Photo: Screenshot/Fox News.

Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, several people have contacted me, asking how to help the families who lost young children because our family suffered its own tragedy. After my 13-year-old son Koby and his friend Yosef Ish Ran were murdered by terrorists here in Israel in 2001, I was sure that when I went outside, the whole world would have changed. That the sky would have turned red and the trees returned to rocks. I thought that there was no way that I or the world would survive my loss.

Grieving requires a new language.

Because the language once used to speak of art projects and homework and work and what’s for dinner no longer suffices. A new language must be learned instead that questions where God is and how such pain and sadness can exist in the world and how on earth we can contain this suffering and anger which threatens to undo us, as individuals and as a community. It asks: How can we live with the absence?

I can’t tell the families how to go on because at this point there is no going on. There is only the hard business of grieving. It is a job in itself. It requires courage and patience to face the emptiness and the longing and the loss and the horror and the might have been, and the if only. If only I had kept him home from school. If only we had never moved to this town. If only Lanza had had no guns in his house.

There is no such thing as closure for the victims’ families. But there may eventually be disclosure, a sense of mission. My family began the Koby Mandell Foundation, which runs healing programs and camps for 500 bereaved children each summer. The only way to rise from tragedy is to create meaning. And the first step in the victims’ families’ journey toward creating meaning is to receive kindness.

When your life is torpedoed there is often no way to continue. The ship is sinking and you can’t bail out enough water to save yourself. No, you are dependent on the kindness of strangers. And here is the point: it’s the community that will save these families by keeping them afloat. Even when they feel that they would prefer to drown.

Everybody is talking about gun control, which is necessary. But what keeps communities safe is talking, knowing what is going on in each other’s homes, reaching out to each other because it’s okay to ask if the other is okay.

So, I say this to the people of Newtown: Continue to reach out. The grieving families no doubt are receiving a lot of help right now. But eventually that help will go away. The families will be left alone. Stay with them for the long run.

Ten ways to help Newtown’s grieving families:

I would give anything not to have learned the vital importance of loving words, helpful deeds and the embrace of community. But I hope my experience can provide guidance that will help ease the pain of others.

1. Sometimes words can cheapen or even desecrate. It is important to use words sparingly. Let the mourning family set the tone.

2. Even if you missed the funeral, you can still visit or call the person, even if it is months or even a year later. It is better to make the connection. And the family needs ongoing support. They will receive a lot of attention at first, and then slowly, the attention and care fades away. Be there for the long run.

3. Even if you don’t know the person that well, the family will feel honored by your presence. It tells them that the person who is gone matters.

4. Every person has something to give to a person in pain. One person may not be good with words but can cook or bring drinks or pick up the other child from soccer. Know what you are good at and use that talent or skill to help the family.

5. Keep calling. Don’t tell the person that they should call you if they need you. You are responsible for calling them. You are there to support them. Don’t expect anything back from them.

6. Don’t ask them if they need anything. Say, I will be by on Monday to take you to the doctor or to bring you a meal or to help you with the wash.

7. Don’t tell the person you know how they feel. You don’t know how they feel. Don’t compare tragedies. And don’t tell them that you could never understand how they feel.

8. Don’t give advice or platitudes. Don’t try to solve their problems. Don’t tell them what to do or why it happened.

9. See that the children are receiving attention as well. Children often are the silent victims in bereaved families because they don’t express their pain so everybody assumes they are fine.

10. Don’t tell people to be strong. They may need to feel broken. Feeling sad is okay. If they are allowed to feel their pain, then one day they will be able to emerge from their pain as stronger, wiser, more compassionate people.

Sherri Mandell, is co-founder of The Koby Mandell Foundation.

1 Comment

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.