Grief counselor on UVA tragedy: Traumatic loss can 'overwhelm our ability to cope'

'It's OK for something as profound as this not to engage and not to feel like you have to engage in private pain'
University of Virginia-Shooting
University of Virginia Shooting
Posted at 4:57 PM, Nov 16, 2022

MECHANICSVILLE, Va. — Don’t hide from the grief: advice that Dr. Sharon Siler took herself immediately following the on-campus murder of three University of Virginia football players Sunday.

“The loss was profound. I had to give myself space to feel and absorb it,” said Dr. Siler, the executive director of The Healing Place in Mechanicsville.

The profound hurt so many across the country felt immediately following the on-campus shooting that took the lives of Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry, and Devin Chandler was pronounced, Dr. Siler said, because of how quickly the victims’ names emerged and how closely so many related to their stories.

Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler.
Lavel Davis Jr., D'Sean Perry and Devin Chandler. The three Virginia football players were killed in a shooting, Sunday, Nov. 13, 2022, in Charlottesville, Va., while returning from a class trip to see a play.

“What stirred is how you link those pictures with your own loved ones, your own children, your own grandchildren, your own friends. And that happened I think in this case immediately,” Dr. Siler said.

Several days since the shooting, the UVA campus and community continues to grieve deeply. Dr. Siler pointed out it’s important to remember what grief does to us, even for those who have been following the tragedy from afar.

“Overwhelms our ability to cope. In some cases, it’s said that actually a traumatic loss devastates our ability to cope,” she said.

The family, friends, and classmates of the victims likely feel this moment most acutely. Unfortunately, its not the first college shooting in Virginia’s recent history.

The UVA tragedy marks the fourth on-campus shooting at a Virginia college or university this century, and the second one this year. Two law enforcement officers were killed at Bridgewater College in February.

“The circle of people who feel something very deeply is very, very large,” Dr. Siler said.

While the instinct for many people could be hiding or suppressing the pain they feel personally because of the UVA shooting, Dr. Siler encourages a different course. If a friend or loved one is showing signs of grief, simply sharing space with them can help ease their hurt.

“It's OK for something as profound as this not to engage and not to feel like you have to engage in private pain,” Dr. Siler said. “You have permission to feel something deeply. You have permission to have time to process. That there's no expectation that your experience has to be like mine.”

“Listen with my ears, but also, let's listen with my heart. So that you feel like there is a place that’s safe for me to say what I feel about this, and the other things, the other losses, that it may be connected to in my life that this tragedy has stirred.”

Online fundraising website GoFundMe established a hub to help the families of those impacted by the shooting.

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