I just can't shake itGrief is a stranger to nobody. We've all lost loved ones, dealt with emotional challenges and suffered traumas to some degree throughout our lives. As adults, we learn to rebuild with faith and move on with the grace of God. But the tragedy that took place in Sandy Hook on Friday seems almost too much to bear.
I've turned off the news. Haven't watched it since Friday when I couldn't stop watching it all day. I called my son's school that afternoon an hour and a half before pick up time and asked the secretary if it'd be silly for me to come get him early. Not out of fear, but for the simple reason that I wanted to hug him. See him. Know that he was alive.
Scrolling through my news feed yesterday I began seeing photos of those that lost their lives. It brought me back to 9/11 when I spent an entire afternoon looking at a website with pictures and names of each victim. It was as if I was searching for someone I knew - some reason that made the hurt in my heart seem justified. It's sometimes hard to remember that the grief felt during events like this, even when not experiencing it first hand is always justified. Such is the human condition. To feel. To be compassionate. To connect to others in times of need.
I sat in the nail salon yesterday after spending an "early Christmas" with my family and felt numb as holiday tunes trickled out of the speakers around me. I glanced up at the television, muted, but displaying headlines and captions, to see the father of one of the 1st graders get in front of the camera to talk about his daughter. I searched his face for emotion as the words popped up letter by letter. He described his little girl as "creative" and "imaginative" who always toted crayons with her wherever she went. She drew pictures for everyone for birthdays, when sick or just because. She was spirited and wise beyond her years. And I couldn't hold back my emotion any longer. He was not only describing his daughter...that was my Ethan. To a T.
Looking at the big beautiful eyes of that little girl I didn't know, my heart felt unbearably heavy. Those kids. Those families. Why? Why? WHY???
My grief is wound up tightly in the realities these families are facing and the unsaid moments of that Friday morning. I imagine a frustrated mother who fought with a stubborn 1st grader about what she wanted to wear, arguing over shoes or headbands or bows. I imagine a child who complained of a tummy ache but in the absence of a fever and childcare, his parents decided to send him to school anyway that fateful morning. I imagine the stay-at-home moms who hurried their little ones off to school, looking forward to a few moments of quiet in their day. I imagine the parent who scheduled an afternoon dentist appointment, not wanting their child to miss any school.
Those are the moments that will haunt these families. The "why didn't I" and the "what if's". And I guess my ability to empathize in that way is a blessing and a curse. I AM that parent. I've HAD those trivial arguments and anxious-to-get-them-out-the-door feelings. I'm constantly questioning every decision I make.
Life is precious - we never know what tomorrow holds. And yes, these tragic events have made me pause, hug and squeeze my kids and husband more often, more intently. But the truth is there is NO WAY to protect ourselves, our hearts, from pain and suffering. It's a part of life. We simply cannot control the actions of others - we cannot predict evil.
I don't care so much to hear about the gun-wielding boy who entered the school that morning. I don't seek to understand WHY he did what he did. That answer is evident. His life had ended far before he took his own - he stopped existing when he concocted this plan. That is how I have to see it anyway. Anyone who could walk into an elementary school devoid of emotion and take the lives of 26 people inside must not have had a heart beating in his chest. And while I'm confident his soul is burning in Hell, it is no consolation to the innocence that was stolen from that sleepy Connecticut town.
How? How can those families go on? It makes me want to vomit thinking about facing the hand-drawn pictures on the fridge. The closet full of hidden presents ready to unwrap at Christmas. The home videos that live on their computers, phones, DVDs. How does someone learn to put one foot in front of the other after losing a child? It has brought me to tears over and over.
Each night, I pray for the families. I pray for the children, staff and loved ones who survived. For the police and EMTs who were the first to the scene. And, I pray, perhaps selfishly, that this grief that I feel in my heart is never compounded by ever experiencing it first hand.