Too close to home.


Today marks one month after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut. Below are some of the things that I wrote in the days following. I revisited this post several times over a couple of weeks, editing to update the time references, but ultimately still felt too raw each time to post. One month later, I am ready to try again.

It’s probably for the best for me that I learned the news in stages. The first reports I heard of Friday’s shooting were that there were several people injured. I saw murmurings on Facebook late morning, and the links I followed had no more information. I saw that photo, the one that seems to be everywhere, of young kids being walked away. Some with their eyes closed, some obviously crying. I quickly looked away, feeling pangs from seeing the troubled faces, and went about my business. From what I’d read, there had only been injuries. I had things to do to get ready for our planned weekend trip to my in-laws’.

A bit after noon, I talked to John. I don’t remember why I called him. Probably something about our trip. He asked if I knew about the shooting in Connecticut. I said I did, but as we spoke I realized that I didn’t really know. He mentioned that the town was one we’d recently driven through, and even stopped for dinner. A pretty town with a little river running through it that we had both admired. I hadn’t made the connection, hadn’t retained the name of the town. We got of the phone and I went back to my laptop, and learned more.

With every update, the news only worsened.

On Saturday morning I woke up in the uncomfortable monstrosity of a fold-out bed at my in-laws’, and I understood my body’s achiness. But my eyes were sore, too, with the soreness that I get when I have been crying. Instantly I remembered why I had been crying, and the tears and the heaviness in my heart began once more.

I can’t count the number of times I cried that week, especially over that weekend. At the same time, I was careful to hide my grief from Phoebe and Theo. I’d cry in the bathroom. Or in the car by myself. I felt glad that my recent cold would mean that my red eyes and nose would be unremarkable. I felt glad that I am liberal with my hugs and physical affection, so being held tight by Mommy is nothing out of the ordinary. I don’t think that they could feel how deep my need was for those hugs.

That Sunday, we drove home from my in-laws’, but took a different route. Our usual route, the one that we take every month or so, goes right through Newtown on Route 84. We were concerned that there would be heavier traffic along the route, especially with the planned visit from the President that night. It felt right, too, to give them that extra space. But my thoughts and heart were there, and my eyes watched Sandy Hook on the map.

There have been other mass shootings, recently and in past years. Other tragedies. I have grieved many times before for those I’ve never met. But in my life as it is now, this feels like the worst possible tragedy. I can’t even begin to make sense of it. I can only compare my feelings to grief to the loss I’ve felt when someone close to me died, and to the shock I felt after September 11th.

I think of those parents in that little New England town, a town like my own in many ways, who sent their kids off to school that morning just as I had, never dreaming how the day would end. How could they? It was unimaginable. It should have been unimaginable.

Innocent people. Teachers. School administrators. The death of any one of them would have been felt as a great loss for the school and the community.

But children. Twenty little children. The loss is immeasurable.

First graders.

The same age as my Phoebe.

A week later, I felt the tension of grief ease, with a mixture of relief and guilt. I found myself laughing more and crying less. But I know that for those other parents, family members and friends, the healing will be a much slower process. I have lived through grief, the ordinary grief of losing a loved one, and it still can knock the wind out of me many months or years later. I use this familiar grief as an inadequate yardstick to measure the grief I imagine those others to be living through, and to have ahead of them.

I have felt so many strong emotions these past weeks. Horror. Anger. Immense gratitude that it was not my town, that my own children are safe.

I’ve sensed that there are those around the country and around the world who feel that enough energy has been spent on this tragedy, that we need to move forward and focus on change. But this is one of those events that has changed me. Like many the world over, I’ve still needed to process and to grieve.

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9 responses to “Too close to home.

  1. A precise echo of my own feelings, Alejna. I’m just so sad.

  2. I am sad and horrified by the shootings. As a country we have let our children down by not addressing the interconnected issues of mental illness + gun control + violence in the movies/games. I feel personally responsible for this failure– like there was something more that I should of been doing to stop this sort of thing before it happened. I’ll never forget Sandy Hook, but as of this date I don’t know what to do to help make sure that something like this never, ever happens again. It’s depressing and frustrating.

  3. The shootings at the mall in Portland happened about 2 miles from my sister’s house. My children haven’t been to that mall, but they have been near it… So, my husband and I thought it was important to talk to them as a family about what happened there. Then, just a few days later, there were the shootings in Newtown.

    That Saturday we skiied, as we always do, the kids in their ski classes and my husband and I together. My husband got mad about something, I can’t remember what, and I left him. Skiied by myself all day. I kept thinking, these shootings are a result of male anger – women never shoot up malls – I can’t be near any men —– It was irrational, unfair, I have a son myself, but I couldn’t help thinking it. Then I ran into a girlfriend of mine, and after a minute of conversation she burst into tears. She’s a teacher at an elementary school; she teaches at the same school her son attends; and she asked me, what if I had to choose between keeping my class safe and going to find my son?

    This past Saturday, a month after the shootings, I sat in the tiny lodge where the kids’ ski team meets and realized how vulnerable we all were – 120 children and their parents crammed together at lunch tables, with just two exits, one so rarely used that probably no one would remember it, both exits emptying into the cold – it was -3 up there –

    I don’t know that people have forgotten it. Maybe the media has. It’s never far from my mind… But I don’t know what to conclude, what to do, what to say.

  4. We must never forget it. And we have to work on the factors that made it possible.
    When I was the age of the poor dead little ones, we were given drills in the case of nuclear war. We were taught to duck under our desks and cover our heads. A lot of help that would have been. I grew up afraid. I was a young adult when the Cuban crisis happened, and I can still remember sitting in the sunshine at the kitchen table thinking that this might be my last day.
    The fear of mad shooters is a different kind of fear. I just read an interview with the father of a boy who goes to a neighbouring school. Some of his playmates died. This kid asked his father what to do if he were badly wounded – how to help himself.
    Will it ever, ever be possible to raise our children without fear?

  5. I can’t even find words about this subject, so I am very impressed by your eloquence on it. Thank you for writing. (and ditto to mary g, Jennifer, and Ally Bean above)
    Okay, a few words. While I think that we need to move forward in the sense of doing what we can to prevent such tragedies from happening in the future, I also think it is (1) impossible to “move forward” in the sense of either leaving the shock and grief behind or stopping “spending energy on this tragedy”, and (2) disrespectful to suggest doing so. Parents lost their young children. They won’t be able to move forward for years, if ever.

  6. Just to be clear, I didn’t mean that *you* were being disrespectful, just that if anyone was really suggesting “moving forward” in the other sense, they were. I think the best thing we can do with our grief is work to prevent having similar tragedies occur, but we have to acknowledge that doing so won’t undo the grief.

  7. Thanks, friends, for your thoughtful comments. I know this isn’t all about me, but it helps me to work through my grief to see how other people are processing. There is just so much to think about. And I know that it is hard to write about, as I had so much trouble posting this. (I’ve wanted to reply to each comment, but find myself getting tied up in my words again. Maybe I’ll come back again later.)

    I have the sense this week that the media and public attention has been renewed on this topic, probably with many others noting the one-month mark. Some of what I’ve seen has been heartening. (Of course, some of it has been the opposite.)

  8. I still think about it every day. Those poor children and their poor parents. Those poor teachers. It will never make sense to me.

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