The disturbing reports of the latest shooting at the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida resonated with me. I have a granddaughter in high school and a grandson in middle school. As I listened to the news I thought about them. You send your child off to school in the morning with a backpack and lunch and learn a few hours later he or she has been killed and will not come home alive again. I do not want to even think about not having my grandchildren in my life.
I am a woman who has lost two children, one an infant and one who died of AIDS. These losses were not violent. Our infant son’s death was more sudden than our daughter’s passing, however I know the experience of losing a child never leaves you. I have always called it an ‘itch in the middle of my back.’ It is there, like a void I can’t seem to reach. On rare occasions I tear up, but mostly I shove the feelings away. I put one foot in front of the other, smile, shrug my shoulders, do lots of hugging and reach out when I can.
But I don’t know how to be a comfort to other parents who have to cope with the death of their child. I know that each of us mourns in our own way. Time, the proverbial healer, has inured me. I remember my daughter, sometimes with smiles, and sometimes with tears and I savor the memories. My infant son did not live long enough to create a memory, but for more than fifty years there have been rare times I imagined what my life or his life, or my family’s life would have been like had he lived.
I wonder: should I share my experiences with them, should I keep them to myself; I don’t have an answer. Inside I feel the bile rise up in my mouth as I think about the senselessness of the situation. How sad it is that a young man, unable to buy a drink in a bar, has access to a murderous weapon? What was going on in his head that made him open fire on innocent children and their teachers? Where were the mental health professionals who knew about his state of mind? Why didn’t the FBI follow-up on a tip about him? And how about the cowardly officer, who took cover and did not do what he was ‘trained’ for, to protect the students and faculty of the school?
Sometimes positive actions emerge from terrible circumstances. As of this moment teens all over the country are mobilizing against gun violence. They are daring to take a stand. I have been impressed with their poise, the manner in which they articulate their case and only hope they can succeed where others have failed.
The stakes are high for all of us. I personally do not want to read about another birthday of a child passing without their presence, or a Christmas or a family celebration. I don’t want to see the school pictures and the family videos as memorials to them. I don’t want to watch any more children buried too soon in family plots. I want my grandchildren to walk out of their home each morning, laden with their lunch and overloaded backpacks and come home safely to their nest.
To all the parents and grandparents and friends who are living with the knowledge they will never hug or see their children and grandchildren again I offer love, compassion and care and a warm hug to all of you through your tears.