When a tragedy comes, compassion for those directly affected follows in floods. Through sympathy cards, homemade dinners, and GoFundMe pages, it is the beauty of the human race to come together and mourn a loss. A week or a month passes, though, and the mourning halts. When the crowds have finished rushing, the flowers thrown have decayed, and the prayers have grown stale, there is silence. A community that came together has again drifted apart, almost as if the entire tragedy never happened for those indirectly involved. A family who nearly drowned in waves of compassion is left behind in silence.
I'm from a small town in Connecticut. We have 250 students per grade and stay with the same kids after Kindergarten. Despite this close upbringing, I did not know everyone at my school; we came together during pep rallies and spirit week but remained isolated to our select friend groups for the rest of the year. Something has changed over the past two weeks in my tiny town, and from 160 miles away, I feel the barriers that separate the students at my school begging to fall. Over the past two weeks, two young boys, one sophomore and one junior, have passed away one week apart. The two deaths were unrelated; one an unknown heart condition, and the other a suicide. My town is shaken to its core.
Everyone handles tragedy differently, but the people in my town acted in a fairly unilateral way. This may be because no one knew how to act, so they just followed in the footsteps of their neighbors and friends. The response consisted of mental health well-being posts: "You are loved," "Reach out if you need help," "We are in this together," and "Wilton (my hometown) Strong." A GoFundMe page was put in place for the memorials of these boys as well. But just a few days later, these social media posts came to a halt. The cards, flowers, and photos of the memorials in the high school parking lot stopped piling up. A town that came together in times of trouble was now divided once again.
My mother checked in on one of the boy's families a few days ago. When asked how they were handling the chaos, they revealed that it was starting to grow quiet. It was almost as if grief had a time frame; after a few days pass, we are expected to be completely healed. But tragedy is not a week-long exercise, and our extended support cannot be either.
The silence after a tragedy is dangerous. It may seem inevitable to quiet our mourning as time passes, slowly letting our thoughts come to a halt until the next tragedy. But imagine if these social media posts extended year-round. If the "How are you feeling?" texts did not expire after a mere week, and the extended support offered by schools was not just broadcasted over the intercom for one day, but every day. Call me an optimist, but I like to think students' well-being would improve this way.
So how do we avoid the silence? We look out for each other. We offer our extended support. We refuse to let our compassion expire. We wave to strangers in the hallways or someone on the quad at Boston College. We all understand the innate human response to tragedy, and we carry it with us every day. We need to turn our experiences into an opportunity to come together and stay together. Not drift away from each other, but remain as one, holding each other up when we can no longer stand. This month is Mental Health Awareness Month, but mental health requires lifelong dedication. So be compassionate not just this month, but every day.