• Jody Kussin

#71 Family Matters On the Eve of Destruction

In These Days by Dr. Jody Kussin June 2, 2020

Busy few days in my professional life. The horrific murder of a man witnessed by the world has triggered us all, and we each have different reactions to a shared tragedy. Sometimes, that’s where a psychologist is useful.

I saw people with whom I’ve worked for a long time, some of whom I see regularly and some of whom bubbled up this weekend. On paper they have nothing in common. Their worlds do not typically overlap (at least, not to my knowledge) but the past days, everyone needed a safe space to land. Some ranted and then apologized for ranting and then ranted some more. One cried quietly for a long time and then apologized for crying. Another talked non-stop for the first 17 minutes of our time together and then stopped herself, and yes, she apologized too.

Today is for sure a day when mourners do not have to apologize. It’s a day when many individuals are experiencing all the ‘stages’ of grief simultaneously, co-mingling of shock/denial, anger, bargaining, and depression – although we are far removed from the last stage, ‘acceptance.’ With my own white privilege, I have no ability to experience what I cannot experience. I cannot put myself into someone else’s history and world view context. All I can do is be present and be here.

Today, after having weaned myself off it, I’ve gone back to lightly (ok, maybe obsessively) following social media as well as the news. One of the memes I saw said:

It’s not okay to be saying, ‘It’s horrible a black man was killed but destroying property has got to stop. We should be saying, it’s horrible that property is being destroyed but killing innocent black men has got to stop.”

Today seemed to last longer than most days, which is saying something, after three months of sheltering in place where it’s impossible to tell a day or date or season. It started in the middle of the night with helicopters and sirens still making noise and continued into daylight with protests all over the world and the day then slowly crept into the afternoon and then curfewed evening with sirens and helicopters still making noise.

Today I worried on the micro level as two of my kids were out protesting – one in West Hollywood and one in Baltimore. “Take milk for the tear gas,” I texted. “Thanks Mom. We know you’re worried” they wisely texted back.

People are looking for scripts for talking with their children (and there are many good ones – google around – find the developmentally appropriate.) I hate to tell you, even when helpful, the scripts are not overly helpful. It’s not the words. It’s not the kind of thing that requires a formal family meeting. Instead, this is a dialogue to be woven into your fabric of living. This is about your emotional fragility and availability as a human first, and a parent second. This conversation does not have to be overly choreographed. It has to include availability and transparency and the patience to not rush. It has to include listening to what your children have already figured out and figuring out what it means to them. This is a talk wherein you as a parent can and should be fully yourself, while also being mindful that you are the parent and your children are looking to you for wisdom and safety. You can say, “I’m just too sad to make sense of this.” Or you can say, “I am so angry and outraged.” It’s even okay to say, “As your parent, this scares me beyond anything else.” Later in the week you can have more teachable moments about how many black individuals have been murdered in the U.S. in the past few years, for the crime of L.W.B. (living while black.)

If part of your conversation needs actions, maybe light a candle – in your house or on your driveway. Or send condolence cards (hand-made) to George Floyd’s family. Or write and say a prayer together on a zoom healing circle. If you have older kids and teens, let them write letters to elected officials. Conversely, it’s also okay to say, “I just don’t feel like getting out of my pjs today.” But maybe, be wiser than me, and whatever you do, turn off the news already.

It is close to impossible, in these times, to stay sane. But we can and should try to continue to stay safe, physically, medically, emotionally. And we should stay healthy. Physically, medically, and emotionally. And we should raise our voices and be heard which may be an antidote on some level to our racism pandemic.

When possible, we should hold onto our memories and hold and honor the memories of those who have been murdered and work toward a time when we are not debating the differences between protesting and rioting, because there is no longer a need for either.

Maybe you can find something in this song, that is stuck in my head and maybe not. We’re on The Eve of Destruction by Barry Mc Guire (written 1965!)

The eastern world, it is explodin', violence flarin', bullets loadin', You're old enough to kill but not for votin', you don't believe in war, but what's that gun you're totin', And even the Jordan river has bodies floatin', but you tell me over and over and over again my friend, Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Don't you understand, what I'm trying to say? and can't you feel the fears I'm feeling today? If the button is pushed, there's no running away, there'll be no one to save with the world in a grave, Take a look around you, boy, it's bound to scare you, boy, and you tell me over and over and over again my friend, Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Yeah, my blood's so mad, feels like coagulatin', I'm sittin' here, just contemplatin', I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation, handful of Senators don't pass legislation, And marches alone can't bring integration, when human respect is disintegratin', This whole crazy world is just too frustratin', and you tell me over and over and over again my friend, Ah, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

Think of all the hate there is in Red China! Then take a look around to Selma, Alabama! Ah, you may leave here, for four days in space, but when your return, it's the same old place, The poundin' of the drums, the pride and disgrace, you can bury your dead, but don't leave a trace, Hate your next door neighbor, but don't forget to say grace, And you tell me over and over and over and over again my friend, You don't believe we're on the eve of destruction. No, no, you don't believe we're on the eve of destruction.

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