Joseph Nowinski's father died in July at 89, and Nowinski's grief seemed to be taking its normal course.
"I thought and dreamt of him often," said Nowinski, a professor of psychology at University of Connecticut. "Not as much now, but after the Newtown thing, he started popping into my mind again."
For more than two weeks, the horrifying shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School have remained fixed in the public consciousness. At Christmas parties, at work and at home, the topic is never far away, even for those who don't know any of the victims' families directly.
Each day, near-constant coverage brings forth some new, devastating detail about the lives of the victims, or another heart-breaking photo.
For Nowinski and many others, the shootings have brought to the fore their own feelings of loss —family members who have died vividly reappear in their minds and bring a fresh sense of longing. The collective feelings of grief are compounded by the fact that the Newtown shootings happened around the holidays, a time when memories of lost loved ones often come to the surface.
And because it was a such a violent act, a general anxiety about the safety and the future of family is added to the uneasy mix.
"We react because we are people, because we have children, we have parents and we have siblings," said Russell Friedman, executive director of the Grief Recovery Institute in California and the author of "When Children Grieve." "Our brains automatically go to ourselves; not narcissistically, but 'What would it be like if this happened to someone in my life?'"
"It's because we are the family of humankind," he said. "What this is about is triggering all of our massive storehouse of memories and bringing up all the ones that have sadness attached to them."
Recent research shows that grief works in a very non-linear fashion, contrary to the "five stages of grief" as outlined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross about 40 years ago — beginning with denial and ending with acceptance.
With near-constant coverage of the Newtown tragedy, Nowinski said, "you can't escape the news," and it's natural for memories of lost loves ones to emerge.
"That's nothing to worry about," he said. "Their grief is never completely resolved, and they have to accept that. People do eventually come to terms with it, but grief is not something that goes away."
Dr. Surita Rao, a psychiatrist at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford, agreed that it's normal for people to react to Newtown by dealing with their own feeling of loss.
"It's very natural, even if people have had a loss many years ago," she said. "It doesn't matter how much time goes back. Something like this will bring a huge amount of it back."
In most cases, this grief will resolve itself in time and there's no need to seek professional help.
"But if they find that they're slipping into where they can't function daily, that they're crying or having thoughts of wanting to join their loved one, then they really need to see a mental health professional," Rao said.
She said people who have gone through traumatic events themselves, whether it was war or abuse in their childhood, are particularly vulnerable.
Feelings of helplessness compound the sense of loss, and feed anxieties even further.
"People feel like, 'I need to do something,'" said Middletown psychologist Candice Weigle-Spier, coordinator of the Connecticut Psychological Association's volunteer effort in Newtown.
She said many people are at a loss for what to do, though.
"They send thousands of teddy bears, they feel compassion and grief, and just want to do something," Weigle-Spier said.
Guilt is a common reaction, she said, a roundabout way of making sense of the world.
"It makes you feel like you could have done something," she said. "The world now seems more safe because it gives you the sense that you have more control."
"For those of us who are parents, it brings up lots of emotions because it brings up our deepest fears about our kids," Rao said.
Nowinski said the Newtown shootings have created "a ripple effect."
"Now all parents in the state are going to feel vulnerable and worried," he said. "And it extends up to me. I don't know anyone in Newtown, but I am a parent."
He realized this when he dropped off his 6-year-old son at school for the first time after the shootings.
"I've never been uneasy about dropping him off at school, and I did on [Dec. 17]," he said. "I was knocking on the glass to see how thick it is, and I've never done that before."
For those who feel anxiety as a result of the Newtown attack, he said, it probably won't show up in an obvious form, like nightmares. It's more likely to manifest as "soft signs of anxiety," such as loss of appetite or trouble sleeping, and many people might not immediately make the connection between their anxiety and Newtown.
As for children, Friedman of the Grief Recovery Institute said it's crucial that parents be honest with them about what happened in Newtown.
"They've all heard by now," he said. "They have their own jungle telegraph."
As rare as school shootings are, he said, "you can't promise children that it can't happen. They're too smart. Honor the sadness honor the fear. It's a scary thing."
Children might be reluctant to admit that they're scared, he said, so it's helpful if their parents tell them of their own fears.
"The parents are scared and sad, too. The one thing we don't want to do is tell kids 'don't feel sad' or 'don't feel scared,'" he said.
Like sadness, he said, fear is another survival mechanism.
"It's not a bad thing to be scared," he said. "It's an honest thing to be scared. It helps you in being smart and being careful."