When a tragedy — a serious accident, an unexpected death — befalls someone, friends and family quickly spring into action. Emergency room lobbies are crowded with visitors; hospital rooms are filled with flowers; mailboxes are stuffed with sympathy cards; doorsteps are laden with meals.
It’s hard for loved ones not to think of the victim and their family during this time. Adrenaline activated by the threat spurs alertness. Dopamine generated by the novelty of the event creates, though it may sound grotesque to say so, excitement. Such chemicals lend onlookers instinctual focus.
But over the next few weeks, this reflexive attention will wane. As people’s worlds continue to spin exactly as they always have — school, work, the endless go-rounds of ordinary routine — it becomes hard to keep in mind that the life of the bereft remains riven from its axis.
The flowers wilt. Rooms, mailboxes, doorsteps empty.
Ironically, though the care paid the sufferer diminishes over time, his need for such attention actually grows. Once the rush of practicalities attendant to dealing with a loss abate, once the anesthetizing effects of depression lift, it is then that he must face the full pain and consequences of his changed circumstances. Though his need for companionship, for compassion, has never been more acute, it is then that it has never been more scarce.
It’s great to mobilize and encircle the wounded at the moment a tragedy strikes. But it is even better to continue to check in with them in the months, and years, to come.
Love isn’t a visceral fight or flight response. The kind of love that makes us uniquely human goes quite a distance beyond that.
Love doesn’t require external prompts to act.
Love recognizes that how one’s own life is going isn’t indicative of how someone else’s is.
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