Catharsis through creativity

Dr. Bogusia Skud. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, associate professor of counselor education, in a small group discussing the steps in acknowledging grief. December 4, 2013. Photo by Loan Le/The Mirror

After 26 people died in a senseless shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, community members started placing teddy bears, flowers and small gifts near the site to honor the victims. Bob and Josie Schmidt, town residents for 31 years, recalled visiting the makeshift memorial on a rainy, cold day.

“Everywhere we went in town, we were reminded of what happened; it was beautiful and touching, but it still reminded us of the pain and the loss,” said Bob Schmidt, an adjunct professor teaching Fairfield graduate classes for counseling education.

Deeply affected by the sorrows that couldn’t seem to go away, he and his wife, Josie, a retired teacher who once substituted at Sandy Hook, composed a song to express their grief. Yesterday, they performed “Rain, Rain, Rain” during a workshop at the Fairfield University Bookstore and discussed how creative outlets like literature and songs can heal people after devastations.

The Schmidts led the first storytelling workshop last year. Today, Newtown continues to heal. “We are starting to see the town as the beautiful place we love,” Bob Schmidt said.

As a member of the Sandy Hook Crisis Response Team, he volunteered at a crisis center and said that seeing people come together “helped me get my balance again.”

According to Dr. Bogusia Skudrzyk, who also spoke yesterday, the healing process after tragedies doesn’t always have to be personal. “We must allow ourselves to be around people who care for us.”

To start the healing process, the cause of the pain and sorrow must be confronted. Some people might believe that grief must be overcome immediately. “There is so much pressure around us that makes us pretend that nothing [bad] happened,” the associate professor of counselor education said. But grieving has no timetable.

Skudrzyk also disagrees with the myth that showing sadness is a sign of weakness; she encourages people to be open, like children “who are strong enough to admit their feelings.”

Josie Schmidt believes that acknowledging grief and its causes leads to “an appreciation of the beauty of everyday life.”

Catharsis can happen with words on paper, a brush against a blank canvas or notes strummed on a guitar – creativity opens the path to healing and people can choose whatever route they feel comfortable with.

Eventually, attendees were asked to draw four trees, each representing a different season, and then break up into smaller groups to discuss their drawings. The attendees – some strangers, some classmates from Skudrzyk’s course on multicultural issues in counseling and education – started exchanging stories about parents, siblings and friends who have passed away.

Jeff Burgdorfer, a Fairfield graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling, associated the seasons with the beginning of a healing process.

He said autumn represents acceptance of the “inevitability of death … which gets you into the state of mind to appreciate what you have in the moment.” Winter provides a time for reflection while spring means hope.

“Josie and Bob created a beautiful healing atmosphere through their generosity of themselves and their music,” said Kristen Baxter, who takes classes at the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.

Closing the workshop, Skudrzyk compared life to an ocean; a community helps others “go through the tides of an ocean that can take anyone off-balance.”

Attendees discovered they have gone through similar experiences and stages of grief. After the workshop ended, people stayed behind and continued their personal discussions. This, according to Skudrzyk, exemplifies how a community can overcome the clouds of grief and sorrow. And like the lyrics of the Schmidts’ song “Rain, Rain, Rain,” she too believes that “together we will chase away those clouds.”

Fairfield U mourns Sandy Hook shooting massacre victims

The Egan Chapel. Nicholas DiFazio/The Mirror

Additional information added at 10:25 a.m. on Dec. 15:

  • Connecticut Police spokesperson Lt. Paul Vance said in a morning conference Saturday that Lanza had forced his way into the school.
  • All victims have been identified but the police are withholding the release of the names. Vance said to “please respect their privacy.”

On Dec. 14, the Fairfield University community gathered in the Egan Chapel to remember the victims killed in a Newtown elementary school shooting massacre, which occurred early Friday.

According to officials, 26 people were shot and killed by Adam Lanza, 20, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., after he had killed his mother, Nancy Lanza, in their Newtown home.

Lanza had entered the school around 9:30 a.m., according to The New York Times, and started shooting. Responders were alerted at approximately 9:45 a.m.

Twenty children, reportedly ages 5 to 10, were among the victims and two of the adults killed included the school’s principal, Dawn Hochsprung, and the school psychologist, Mary Sherlach, 56. In addition, Lanza’s body was found inside the school. CNN reported that officials are saying that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot.

Hours later, the scene remained secured by police, as they made sure the school was safe. Police also tried to ensure all students were accounted for. Some parents waited outside in fear, anxious for their children’s safety.

Two pistols – a Sig Sauer 9mm and a Glock 9mm – were discovered in the school, while a Bushmaster .223 assault rifle was found in Lanza’s car in the parking lot.

In earlier reports, news outlets like CNN and NBC, said that the shooter was Ryan Lanza, not Adam Lanza. Ryan Lanza is Adam’s older brother. The Federal Bureau Agency had taken Ryan Lanza in for questioning but he is not thought to be involved with the massacre.

Connecticut governor Dannel Malloy said in a conference, “Evil visited this community today.” President Barack Obama also made his remarks and said: “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

“They had their entire lives ahead of them – birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own,” Obama said, referring to the young victims. “Among the fallen were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping children fulfill their dreams.”

By 10 a.m. news of the tragedy had reached many on social media. Students responded within hours with a table in the Barone Campus Center where passerby could write and post prayers for those afflicted by this tragedy.

President Jeffrey P. von Arx sent an email to the Fairfield University community in the afternoon, saying: “The entire Fairfield University community shares the enormous grief that is being felt by those affected by the tragedy that took place this morning in Newtown. We have students, faculty, staff and alumni who live in the area and our thoughts and prayers go out to them and the entire community impacted by this devastating event.”

He said the University has worked closely with the school in the past, “placing graduate students for clinical field experiences there.”

The campus had a moment of silence at 4 p.m. The bells at the Egan Chapel of St. Ignatius Loyola also tolled to mark the moment, and later a vigil was held in the Chapel at 6 p.m.

Fairfield graduate Ralph Belvedere ’12 played introductory music as students filed in to write in the book of condolences, which will be sent to Sandy Hook. Father George Collins made the opening and closing remarks.

Lit candles in the Egan Chapel. Nicholas DiFazio/The Mirror

He asked that students pray for the victims who experienced a “sudden and violent passing.” Collins said in his sermon that God could “heal even as something as heinous as the massacre at Sandy Hook.”

Collins asked that students light candles to provide a “light of love, light amidst the darkness that so many of us feel today.”

Others, including James Fitzpatrick, assistant vice president of the University, went to the podium to share prayers of peace from different faiths.

Collins ended the vigil, inviting people to stay for as long as they’d like. He said: “Perhaps this is a good night to remind everyone to call someone – call a friend, a loved one, and let them know how much you love them.”

As of Friday evening, police do not know the motive behind Lanza’s shooting. However, reports are coming in, saying that Lanza had suffered from a personality disorder.

The Sandy Hook shooting is the second deadliest school shooting in American history, ranked after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Polytechnic Institute, which claimed 32 lives.

Before this incident, Newtown, Conn., approximately 35 minutes away from the University campus, was considered a quiet village in Fairfield County, with a population of about 27,000 people. Sandy Hook Elementary School had an enrollment of 626 students in kindergarten through the 4th grade.

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