New­town heal­ing af­ter its ‘worst week’

Churches, men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als help res­i­dents deal with their grief.

Austin American-Statesman - - THE SECOND FRONT - By Jesse Washington

NEW­TOWN, CONN. — The grief will not end. Yet the heal­ing must be­gin. So as the shock of New­town’s hor­rific school shoot­ing starts to wear off, as the head­lines fade and the ther­a­pists leave, res­i­dents are seek­ing a way for­ward through faith, com­mu­nity and a de­ter­mi­na­tion to seize their fu­ture.

At re­li­gious ser­vices Sun­day, church lead­ers re­ceived stand­ing ova­tions from parish­ioners they have been help­ing to cope with the shoot­ing deaths of 20 chil­dren and six adults at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School. The gun­man also killed his mother and him­self.

“This has been the worst week of my life,” said Mon­signor Robert Weiss of the St. Rose of Lima Ro­man Catholic Church, which lost eight chil­dren and two adults in the mas­sacre. He thanked the com­mu­nity for giv­ing him strength to get through the week filled with fu­ner­als.

Mean­while, a former teacher, Ca­role MacInnes, said she re­mem­bers the gun­man as a smart, sweet boy in her sec­ond-grade class at Sandy Hook.

To deal with the short­term trauma, the state sent dozens of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als to New­town. Ses­sions were avail­able ev­ery day, at a half-dozen lo­ca­tions. Re­lief also has been pro­vided by ther­apy and ser­vice dogs, mas­sage ther­a­pists, acupunc­tur­ists and art ther­a­pists, from around Con­necti­cut and the na­tion.

Rick Ka­plan was driv­ing back to South Carolina on Sun­day with his nine ser­vice dogs. His “Ca­nine An­gels” usu­ally as­sist dis­abled veter­ans, but he spent sev­eral days in New­town with par­ents and grand­par­ents of the vic­tims, the vic­tims’ class­mates and other town res­i­dents.

The fam­i­lies “held dogs, cried, laughed, hugged and thanked us to say that this was in­valu­able,” Ka­plan said. “The love and re­spect of a dog is some­thing, no doc­tor and no medicine can com­pete with what a dog can do.”

The mother of one vic­tim sat with one dog for an hour. Ka­plan re­calls her say­ing: “I can’t tell you how guilty I feel be­cause this is the first joy I’ve had in a week. I feel so guilty be­cause I’m not think­ing about my son right now.”

Af­ter the Sun­day ser­vice at New­town’s Trin­ity Epis­co­pal Church, the Rev. Kath­leen AdamsShep­herd re­ceived hugs and kisses from a long line of parish­ioners. She choked up as she read the names of the vic­tims and of­fered a prayer for all of them, in­clud­ing gun­man Adam Lanza and his slain mother, Nancy.

Things will never be the same here. And that trans­for­ma­tion it­self — heart­break­ing and per­ma­nent as it may be — is the key to long-term re­cov­ery, say some of those help­ing to lead the heal­ing of this shat­tered town.

“This will never leave you and should never leave you. Your tears are proof of your love. The trick is, you’ve got to find a new form for your love,” said Dr. John Woodall, a psy­chi­a­trist and New­town res­i­dent, who is founder of The Unity Project, which has as­sisted re­cov­er­ies from such tragedies such as 9/11.

DAVID GOLD­MAN / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ad­di­son Strychal­sky, 2, of New­town, Conn., pets Libby, a golden re­triever ther­apy dog, dur­ing a visit Tues­day from the dogs and their han­dlers to a me­mo­rial for the Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School shoot­ing vic­tims.

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