By Pat Schwiebert, R.N.
A shooting occurred in Aurora, Colorado just two weeks ago. And within the first hour of this horrific event people were asking “why?” “Why did he do this terrible thing?” “Why did my friend die and not me?” “Why didn’t the assassin get stopped before coming into the movie theatre?” “Why did my son decide to sit in that row this very night instead of one he would normally choose?”
As one who has been sitting for years with people who are grieving I know the question “Why” will be asked over and over in the months to come. Why do we want to know why when knowing why doesn’t change anything? What are we doing when we ask that question?
- We are trying to make sense out of something that makes no sense.
- We are trying explain away something that cannot be explained.
- We are trying to justify what just happened.
- We think we are supposed to know why.
- We think we can prevent it from happening again if we know why.
- Our friends may want to know why so they can assure themselves that they would never make that same mistake.
- We assume we have control of our lives and that we make wise choices. Something out of the ordinary that does harm causes us to challenge our own ability to protect those whom we love.
- We want to know why so that when others ask us what happened we have a reasonable answer that can explain everything.
- We are enchanted by theories that we can develop—in an intellectual process that keeps us from having to feel the searing pain of loss.
As children we would continue to ask why even after we were given an answer. It’s as though if we kept asking why we’d finally get the answer we wanted. “Just because” was not a sufficient answer. But NO answer will fully satisfy us. The only acceptable answer is…”This is just a bad nightmare and you will wake up soon.” Knowing why will not make us miss our loved ones any less.
Asking “why” is not a bad thing. It’s part of the process of grief that we face as we come to terms with the reality that this awful thing happened and we couldn’t /didn’t prevent it. At some point we will realize we may never really know why. And we will have to learn to be okay with not knowing.
Ultimately the more important question is not “why do bad things happen to good people?” but how will we respond to the bad things that have happened? Or what do we plan to do to put our lives back together in the face of what has happened.
And when we get to the place where “why?” no longer has its hold on us we can begin to rebuild our lives knowing we can live knowing “Just because” may be good enough.