PUBLIC TRAGEDY: Day 25 of 31 Days of Creative Caring

Yesterday I covered a few ideas about how to care creatively when someone dies.  They are “tried and true” things that minister to and are appreciated by grieving families.
But if you pay any attention at all to the “top stories” on the news, sometimes people don’t just die; they die.  Death and Tragedy join forces, leaving a mess of pain and numbness behind.
Even in those times when Tragedy manages to escape Death, the reality left behind is beyond what most people can ever imagine.  To make things even more complicated, Tragedy likes an audience.  Those  people who are unexpectedly thrown into horrific situations also find themselves being watched … and talked about.

Like it or not, theirs is a public tragedy.

  • Passenger jet crashes into mountainside:  No survivor
  • Roll-over collision takes lives of three children
  • Baby decapitated during childbirth
  • Students shot by out-of-control classmate
  • Bodies of family members discovered:  Murder suicide
 and we’re supposed to somehow be creative in our caring?

Public tragedies are some of the hardest situations in which to reach out, even to close friends.  They’re so darn tragic … and hard to watch … and they make us really uncomfortable.  But reach out we must.

  • Do the Awkward (Didn’t read Day 1 of this series? Now’s a good time.)
  • Be available, but don’t be ever-present; give space
  • Don’t be judgmental
  • Listen to understand, not to reply. (Great advice left in a comment on my last post!)
  • Don’t ask for details.  No one owes you “the scoop” about the tragedy.
  • Be discreet about the details you DO know.  They aren’t yours to broadcast; they’re yours because you’ve been entrusted with them.  Be worthy of that trust.
  • If you can personally relate to a particular tragedy (even if you’re only an acquaintance), a phone call or note is often a good way to reach out. It’s okay to say something like, “You don’t know this, but someone close to me once committed suicide, and I’ve been where you are. If you ever want to talk, I’m here for you.” Even if the person never asks to talk, you’ve still communicated that they’re not alone … and you’ve given them hope that they, too, will eventually “be normal” again.


Have you ever reached out to (or been) someone experiencing a public tragedy?  What did you learn about yourself?

This is part of a 31-day series. To read previous posts, go HERE.


  1. Twice…and I prayed. I still pass the grave of a young man that was killed right in front of my son and I continue to pray for his family. Each were not where I would come in contract with the family, but both pulled my heart and tears of compassion and I prayed!

  2. I’m from a small town. Small towns tend to have an “ownership” over local tragedies as if the tragedy belongs to the entire town and not just to those close to it. They mean well, I guess, but it seems that too often folks who are mere acquaintances or really don’t know the family at all tend to want to claim a kinship that they don’t have.

    I said all that to say that I have found that making sure my presence is appropriate and would actually benefit the family is what I have done in these circumstances. Just as Janette said, I PRAY. I also send a card or note to the family telling them that I am praying for them. I tell them specifically how I’m praying if I can.

    Prayer is the greatest gift, I think.

  3. Our close friends lost their son, one of the basketball players on the OSU plane that went down in Colorado. To this day, many of us keep a star decal with his jersey number on it on the rear window of our cars. Cherry Kay