Grieving the Oil Spill and Other Such Tragedies

I donít know about you, but it pains me to read the news. I got rid of TV four years ago because I just couldnít take it anymore–the heartsickness I felt every time I turned on CNN, where I couldnít help watching the nonstop coverage of 9/11, the tsunami, child abductions, war casualties, and Katrina.† Itís better now that I canít see it streaming live 24/7, but I still check in on, and even that is almost too tragic for me to bear.

The current tragedy

Take the BP oil spill. Every day, thereís more footage of the environmental disaster, the dying birds, the growing oil slick destroying our ocean, the tragic health consequences, the unforeseen damage this will do to our environment. President Obama just met with the BP officials and he wants them to pay for the cost of this disaster, but how can you set a dollar value to the damage already done and the unimaginable damage that will follow?

I read about it all, and I feel myself start to shut down. I just canít take it all in. I feel myself building a wall, navigating away from CNN, trying not to think about it.† Itís too awful.

Then you hear about flooding in the Midwest, mass murders, genocide in Africa, and seemingly never-ending wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And thatís just what the US media deems important enough to report. It tends to turn me into an ostrich, burying my head in the sand and repeating Scarlett OíHaraís mantra, ďIíll think about it tomorrow.Ē

Facing it

I know there are activists out there, people who hear about global injustice and natural disasters, and instead of running for the hills, they run for the front line. Iím so grateful these people exist, and I admire their moxie, their passion, their take-charge attitudes, their save-the-world souls.† But the truth is, Iím not one of them.† I can only handle so much suffering in my life.

Itís not that Iím too soft to handle tragedy.† After all, Iím a doctor. So Iíve sat at many bedsides during many deaths. Iíve delivered babies who died in the womb. Iíve told many a father that heís lost not only his baby, but his wife.† Iíve witnessed a man who fell into a vat of molten metal walk himself to the ER only to die on the front doorstep of the hospital. I canít say Iíve led a particularly sheltered existence.

For some reason, I can handle these tragedies, knowing that I am there to help ease the suffering–that even if I canít prevent the inevitable sadness, I can hold a hand, wipe a brow, express love and compassion, cradle a dying baby in my arms while the mother sobs. I can be fully present and keep my heart open and cry my eyes out.


But things like the BP oil spill leave me feeling so helpless. I donít know how to ease my own sense of suffering, much less that of a dying pelican.† I canít leave my family to go stand on the front line and mop up oil on Gulf Coast beaches. I donít choose to fly to Haiti when an earthquake happens. Instead, I get sick to my stomach and just turn off CNN.

I know itís important to be informed. You canít live your life in a vacuum, and history merely repeats itself if we donít learn our societal lessons along the way. But where do you draw the line? It sounds naÔve and oh-so-Pollyanna, but maybe ignorance is bliss.† Maybe I donít need to poison my psyche with never-ending tragedies that I canít do anything about. Maybe itís enough to serve the world in the way I can, knowing that itís enough, even when it doesnít feel like it.

How do you handle these things?† How much information is too much? How do you handle the pain and suffering of world tragedies? How do you get your brain around something so awful that the scope of the imagination can only barely begin to contain it?


Emma S.
Emma S6 years ago

I think that, just by being part of Care2, we're all helping be a force for good in the world. As for the news, I've long maintained that it should be more balanced, because it gives us such a one-sided view of life. Maybe, until they make a change for the better, it should be called the Bad News, so we know what we're getting!

Robert O.
Robert O7 years ago

Thank you for this. I can relate on so many levels. I just try to stay positive and try and do some good for someone or for a charity. It makes me feel better since in my own mind I tell myself that I am trying in my own small way to offset some of the negativity in the world.

Stephen Connor
Stephen Connor7 years ago

If we feel helpless all we need to do is stop driving and using transport, this would make a change. There are many things we can do to make a change. Healing people holistically would be a huge one in your field.

Rutilia Bautista
Rutilia Bautista7 years ago

Thank you for the article. Sometimes things get to me too, and I have to take a break for a few days from watching the news for my mental health.

Chinmayee Jog
Chinmayee Jog7 years ago

I completely understand Lissa! I'm a doctor as well, and nothing about what we do is sheltered. In fact, there are days that can be horrifying, and all you can do is show empathy and kindness, and then keep going to the next patient. As for the news, I avoided it for a long time too, because I couldn't take the suffering of the world either. Not just what people are doing to each other, but what they're doing to animals and to the Earth. However, I decided that I would rather know what was happening and face it, and then try to prevent it or at least give it a voice. Not just because I would like to remain informed, but more because I think, if I don't do it, who will? Sure, there are so many people out there who are trying to make the world a better place, and I'm so thankful that I'm not alone. But if each and every one of them reacted the way I used to (shutting it out), then no changes for the better would ever be made, and that would be the biggest tragedy of all!! I also find that I face everything better by allowing little episodes of happiness into my life, and meditation truly helps as well :)

Joseph B.
Joseph B7 years ago

Concerned: You did something, and that counts. It's always a tough call with wild animals whether we're helping them or prolonging their suffering. If you didn't know any vets in the immediate area to call (or have their number), you weren't off base in counting on the wildlife expert who has experience to make the right call. And likely it was. If the animal could not be brought back to health, then euthanasia is the likely most humane alternative.

Janet T.
Janet T7 years ago

Concerned, I share your pain. I had a similar situation with a fawn, and it will forever haunt me. You stopped to help a being in need and help him pass...a great gift. Thank you.

Concerned Citizen

I don't know. I guess we all have our own ways of responding to things, and my way is a mix.

Today I experienced a horrible thing in which I stood on the side of the street with a suffering deer, shading him with an umbrella while my mother poured water into his mouth gently. I am just now feeling regret and that sick feeling in my stomach, remembering the animal control officer telling me there were no other options and the sheriff telling us to drive away while they "took care of him."

The feeling is horrid, and it's hard to deal.

John Van Hise
John Van Hise7 years ago

lisa, thank you for your article. it is refreshing to hear the honesty with which it was written. activism of the sort often advocated on these pages is not for everyone. but we need people like you as much as crops need honeybees.
for the rest of you --- get up off your keesters and go to a rally near you on saturday, june 26 to show your support for an end to offshore drilling for oil. check with or the sierra club or just google it (like hands across the sand) to find an event near you.

Janet T.
Janet T7 years ago

Oops, that's $29 BILLION. That should get the oil companies' attention.