Like most of you I’ve seen a fair amount of coverage about the Sandy Hook tragedy, and whenever one of the victim’s parents speaks on TV there’s a look on their face I can’t help but recognize. It’s shock.
I’ve heard some people say how impressed they are at how poised the parents are when speaking about their children. “If it was my child,” these well meaning people say, “I don’t think I could even say my name!”
The reality, though, is that you are able to say your name. You’re actually much more functioning in the beginning than you imagine you would be. That was my experience, at least, after we lost Maddie. Heather and I were interviewed by the local news about the social media response to Maddie’s passing a couple days after it happened, and now, on the rare occasion when we watch the video, we barely recognize ourselves. We’re speaking about Maddie – eloquently, you could say – but there’s nothing in our eyes. The gravity of what happened wouldn’t hit us for a while longer.
Part of the reason we were able to keep reality at bay initially was because so much was going on. There was a funeral to plan, tweets and posts dedicated to Maddie to read, daily visitors to talk to, and other things to busy ourselves with.
The parents of the Sandy Hook tragedy are far busier than we ever were, of course. For them there are interviews with the media, meetings with President Obama, a funeral to plan, and many more to attend. They have a lot going on, so much that, for now, they can keep ahead of the gloom.
But in time the general public and media will stop focusing so much on the tragedy. That time will likely come soon – after the holidays, when people go back to work or school and tend to the business of their normal lives. The bereaved parents, however, will have no normal life to go back to, and it will be made all too clear to them.
In the beginning it’s easy to be magnanimous in the face of such personal loss, but later, when things have quieted down, that’s when it all hits you. It’s then, when you look around and see nothing but children who have been spared such a tragic fate (and the parents who get to love on them), that it’s easy be overcome with the unfairness of it all. It was a couple months after losing Maddie when the loss became most real for me. Only then did I turn into the kind of basket-case everyone assumes they’d be if they lost a child.
There’s not much any of us can do to lessen the burden of the parents of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but I wanted to write this post to to ask people to treat them gently. That might seem like an unnecessary request, but while most people have been loving and supportive, I have seen – in some quarters – a perverse backlash against the victims and their parents:
Why is that kid getting so much attention?
Hundreds of kids died in Africa since Friday, but who’s talking about them?
What did these people do to deserve to meet the President?
Jealousy and judgment of these parents may seem inconceivable, but it’s out there. The vast majority of us, thankfully, have compassion and empathy, but I hope that, as time goes on and the parents of the Sandy Hook tragedy meet their darkest days, we remain as kind and supportive as possible. They – and all bereaved parents – deserve that much.