When Tragedy Meets Social Media, It’s OK to Take a Time Out


I am guilty of obsessing over others’ responses to tragedy. By this, I mean, I take to the deep dark vortex of news websites, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter and scroll until my thumbs grow numb.

On social media, my friends mostly say the things I’m already thinking, and I’ll either desperately like all of their stats, angry posts and calls to action, or be a silent voyeur — too stunned and despondent to go through the trouble of liking anything. Once exhausting my own feeds, I often seek out politicians I dislike and judge their responses until, compelled by rage, I start emailing and calling senators, an act which I highly recommend.

All the while, I’m subconsciously stressing about how I’m supposed to respond. I prefer to stay quiet. I think, my friends and family know I’m feeling sick with despair about any person let alone any child being gunned down. Why do I need to announce it to them on a public platform?

But then I worry, what if I come across as callous? I changed my profile picture to show solidarity for X, so shouldn’t I do it for Y? I’ll ruminate on that for far too long.

Being an owner of a blog adds a whole new layer. City Moms Blog Network encourages sites to steer clear of political issues. At Military Moms Blog, we try to do the same with our contributing team. While I personally abhor guns, I know with full certainty that some of my contributors feel differently. I respect this. We are a collaborative blog — having different perspectives enriches our content.

But then what do we say as a blog? I don’t want to offer a generic “We love you. We are praying for you,” but what else is there to say?

We are heartbroken? We are.

But do our readers need to know? Isn’t everyone heartbroken? And then I wonder, do we respond to every tragedy? What constitutes a tragedy? Don’t we have a tragedy every day?

My mind churns down a million dark rivers.

I walk you through this rather shameful state of mind because for me, I believe these are all ways that I actually avoid processing the tragedy at hand. I know, in theory, I am very upset.

But, you see, by obsessively reading the news and following social media feeds, I leave myself nearly anesthetized, all because I’m desperate to avoid my heart.

It’s as if deep inside my brain, I know that the event of the moment is too awful to truly prod, so if I find the right way to publicly respond to it; if I obsessively follow the news and social media feeds, then the feelings will go away, and I’ll never actually have to confront them.

When Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I was pregnant with my first child. My office was having a Christmas potluck that evening, and so that afternoon, I feigned an excuse to leave and buy food. Instead, I went home and curled up like a rotting hermit crab and sobbed in my bed until there was nothing left inside me beside my unborn baby girl.

I remember my reaction to Sandy Hook for several reasons, but mostly, because I let myself react. I tore myself from my computer and gave myself space to grieve — to grieve for those families and for our nation. When I think about that day, I viscerally remember how I felt — how I still feel.

When it comes to tragedy, we all respond differently; there is no right or wrong way.

However, when we start obsessing about how we outwardly respond instead of stopping to inwardly reflect, I think we rob ourselves of something important — something that makes us human and compels us to make the world a better place.

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Julie Cohen
Julie is a co-founder and contributor of Military Moms Blog. She also is a freelance writer and editor living in northern Italy where her husband is stationed in the Air Force. They have a little girl who spends most of her time (successfully) convincing her parents to buy more gelato, and a baby boy who they suspect already speaks better Italian than they do. Julie is the former food and wine editor of the San Antonio Express-News and former managing editor of Sauce Magazine in St. Louis, Missouri. which is where she calls home — but her dad was in the Army, so nowhere is technically home! She also has taught high school composition and British Literature, adult creative writing and college writing. Julie completed an MFA in nonfiction writing from Columbia University. In her free time, Julie enjoys running, reading and “studying” the varietals of Italy.