After a community tragedy, people gather to remember and honor the victims. Making decisions about how to memorialize the event can get contentious as people grieve differently and seek different kinds of symbols for commemoration. Good, nonjudgmental leadership is essential in guiding the community to make choices that will stand the test of time.
When tragedy strikes, concerned people gather spontaneously in homes, near the site of the event or at other public gathering places. Many people want to be with others who share their grief and worry and to know they are not alone. Others wish to withdraw to grieve with only one or two close family or friends. The purpose of such large or small gatherings is to stand by each other and offer comfort, reassurance and condolences. Bringing people together to promote connections and collective healing after a tragedy is what strengthens families and communities the most.
In contrast, isolation tends to slow the healing process. Suspicion and fear divides people and grief makes people irrational. Violence damages the bonds of trust and affection, leaving community members relying on good leadership to begin to weave those bonds back together.
Almost immediately after a mass violence incident there is a need for municipal, community and faith leaders to organize more formal events, such as a simple candlelight vigil, to invite the community to gather for spiritual comfort, reassurance that appropriate safety steps are being taken, that community support will be available, and to lift spirits and affirm the resilience of the community. Memorial events that are student and community initiated and led are often the most helpful to survivors.
Anniversaries bring renewed memories. One purpose of memorial events is to maintain the natural human attachment that continues after death and to bring together people who loved and cared about those injured or killed. Complex feelings can be evoked as each anniversary comes and goes.
The design and construction of a permanent memorial to honor the victims of a mass violence incident can be a difficult process for the community with the task at hand. Leaders must find the balance between the desires to memorialize the dead and the need to restore normalcy for the living.