Overcoming grief and trauma

Tips for surviving the Boulder Table Mesa tragedy

Looking beyond the flowers: since gun violence impacts entire communities, recovery is also a community-wide effort

A recent visitor to Boulder described the block-long, 6-foot-high flower memorial that sprang up immediately after the King Soopers shooting as both “chilling” and “breathtaking,” and noted that “it could easily have been your town, my town.”

His comments are supported by an April 16 CNN story and graphic that shows at least 45 mass shootings have occurred in the U.S. since mid-March.

The article went on to say, “The U.S. has seen at least 147 mass shootings in 2021,” including an April 15 mass shooting at an Indianapolis Fedex facility that left eight people dead and several others wounded.

This means that across the country, Americans are not only suffering but also wondering, “Is my town next?”

Many of us are scared, and rightfully so.

In Boulder, counselors from Mental Health Partners (MHP) are personally grappling with the King Soopers’ aftermath, while at the same time working to ease other people’s fears, Co-CEO Jennifer Leosz said.

Experience tells Leosz that people’s responses to the tragedy will be different. For instance, people who lived through other mass shootings, such as Columbine and Aurora, may be re-traumatized by the Boulder shooting.

“Across the state people are being affected by this because it brings things up for folks, so that’s hard,” Leosz said. “But it’s a different reality when it’s your own backyard. Our community has really come together to support victims and victims’ families. Coming together as a community has a huge healing component to it.”

The community is currently focused on victims’ immediate needs and the needs of victims’ families, Leosz said, but there’s a long-term reality, too.

“I think the community acknowledges that this is not going to be done quickly,” she said. “This is a traumatic event that will really have a long-lasting impact and so we’re also focused on  how do we support the community moving forward.”

Mental Health Partners has been working in the Boulder community for nearly 60 years. It’s services are available to all Boulder residents.

In addition, MHP’s web site has compiled information from a variety of expert sources aimed at helping the entire community cope with the King Soopers’ tragedy.

For example, a section by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says, “In situations of community violence, people may experience the loss of their sense of safety, their trust in those who live in their neighborhood or their trust in local government.”

People living through the trauma of a mass shooting may experience:

  • Trembling
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nausea, trouble eating, sleeping or breathing
  • Dry mouth

In addition, they may have nightmares and withdraw socially from work, school and other activities.

These feelings could last for quite some time but they will eventually diminish, the experts say. You can, however, hasten your return to a normal life by talking to family members, faith leaders or professionals who are trained to help.

If you’re isolating, get out and do things you enjoyed doing before – even if you’re not in the mood. Exercising, healthy eating and minimizing alcohol consumption will help, too.

“Allow yourself to feel joy at times and to cry when you need to” – Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration  

Children and youths may be especially impacted by a mass shooting, SAMHSA says.

Very young, preschool age children may return to sucking their thumb or wetting their bed and may experience an increased fear of monsters and the dark.

They may also become clingy. Unexplained aches and pains,  aggressive, withdrawn, hyperactive or disobedient behavior are also common.  So, cuddling and nurturing will help these youngsters recover more quickly.

Older children, 6-10 years old, may experience problems at school or even start acting younger than they are.

Tweens and adolescents are already experiencing physical and emotional changes that could make it more difficult for them to cope with trauma. They may become silent and withdrawn or engage in risky behaviors involving drugs and alcohol.

Starting arguments at home or school is another indication of a youth in difficulty.

SAMHSA says the most important way adults can support this age group is “to make sure they feel connected, cared about loved.”

To help children of all ages recover, parents, teachers and other adults can help them by:

  • Paying attention and listening
  • Allowing them to ask questions
  • Encouraging positive activities like helping others
  • Letting children know they’re not to blame when bad things happen
  • Setting an example of self-care by maintaining good physical and emotional health

Mass shooting survivors face many of the same types of reactions already described, with SAMHSA saying anxiety, anger, headaches and stomach aches, over-eating or loss of appetite, and feelings of intense grief may also be evident.

“Grief may be felt intensely on and off for at least a year if someone has lost a loved one in the event” – SAMHSA

Here are some important observations of note:

  • Everyone has different ways of coping, which can make people act differently than they usually do.
  • Everyday routines may not return to normal for months or even years.
  • The stress of a traumatic event may lead to poor work performance and short tempers may surface at the workplace.

Here’s what helps:

  • Talking with someone is the best way to help yourself. Reach out to a trusted friend, family member or faith leader.
  • Moving your body relieves stress – deep breathing, gentle stretching and walking.
  • Eat healthy, meditate, try to establish routines and know that it’s OK to celebrate successes, and enjoy your family and friends.

If you or someone you know needs assistance, please call Mental Health Partners’ 24/7 crisis line at 844-493-TALK (8255) or visit the #BoulderStrong Resource Center.

Please note:
Effective June 19th, the new location for the center:
2935 Baseline Rd
Boulder, CO 80303
(303) 545-0844