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.
This was such a truthful and empathetic post. Everything you said is so relevant, and of course you understand what those poor parents are going through, and what they will go through. I wish somehow your words could be broadcast so that everyone could hear them. I too, have seen some of the backlash, and it disgusted me. However, like you, I do believe that the majority of us are compassionate. It’s a shame that the few hatemongers have a forum to voice their judgment. That’s the downside to online social networking, but the upside counteracts that. You are a great Dad and obviously a great person!
Thank you, Mike. That was so well said. Seeing the parents speak, that look of shock you describe is just so heartbreaking. And the type of backlash you mentioned drives me crazy. It seems to come up anytime a tragedy gets national attention, and I just don’t understand it. I see the same thing happen time and again, and I always respond the same way: sadness is not a zero sum game. Mourning and crying for these parents doesn’t take away from sadness for tragedies elsewhere. The loss of a child is always heartbreaking, no matter where or when it happens, and our empathy can never be used up. I don’t even want to think about people begrudging them for their meeting with president Obama, as if they wouldn’t give that away in a heartbeat to have their children back. Unbelievable.
When my 10 year old nephew was killed 4 years ago it was a bit of a media event where we live, and I learned very quickly that for all of the wonderful, supportive and kind strangers out there who buoy you there are also some incredibly mean spirited people who will say the most hateful things behind the anonymity of the internet. It didn’t take long to discover I should NEVER EVER look at the comments section of any news about his death.
It is impossible to reconcile yourself with the death of a child because it is an incredibly unnatural thing to live through, but it is also impossible to reconcile yourself to the idea that there are people who would take such a horrific experience and add their hatefulness on top of it. Every time I hear of a child that has died and it is covered by the media my heart breaks a little more for those families, because while I know from my experience how gratifying it can feel in the wake of such a loss to share your loved one with the world at large and make sure that their face and name are known and remembered, I also know that inevitably they will also face people who will criticize and insult.
I cannot even begin to imagine having to go through the grieving process that is the traumatic and sudden loss of your child with the media presence on the scale of the Sandy Hook shootings, and I cannot begin to imagine how hard it is also going to be for them once the immediacy of the story begins to fade. The hardest part for me too came a few months later, when life began to resolutely move on for everyone else, and I was still haunted with the images and the emptiness. I hate that anyone ever has to live through such an experience as this, and I will carry these families with me in my thoughts all of the time now, like I do the families of everyone I know of who has lost a child.
And to that end Mike, I think of your Maddie Moo often as well, and I promise that I will never ever forget her or how important her time here on earth was. The very least I can do for these beautiful children who didn’t get their chance to make their way in the world is to make sure that the world still holds a place for them, by keeping their memory alive.
Oh Eva, I just wanted to say that I love your post. You have eloquently voiced what so many of us feel, and it moved me.
Wow. No one else even needs to comment…Eva has said it all. Beautiful comment, Eva, and I am so sorry that your family has lost a child.
Lovely post, Mike. It’s amazing how cruel people can be, and how presumptious they can be in their ideas of how bereaved people “should” act. I’ve seen some stuff on the internet this week that just blows my mind, it’s so insensitive. No one knows how to act in these situations, and no one can know how they will act unless they have walked that path.
Lovely comment Eva. So sorry your family had to endure such heartache in the loss of your nephew.
It is hard to imagine anyone being jealous or envious of the people because they got to meet the President, but you are right – they are out there. Who would want to be in these families’ shoes? I’ve given up trying to understand people.
Thank you for sharing this. It’s very insightful and something I had wondered about as well.
Very well-said Mike.
Beautifully expressed, Mike. And Eva your comment was as well.
More people need to read this.
Amen! As I was reading I dang near high-fived the iPad. One would think that these parents would be off limits at this time, but sadly, they aren’t. I was appalled at a former very popular mommy blogger who claimed on her fb page that this tragedy wasn’t one of the greatest ones of our lifetime…..not by a longshot. Yes, she used that term. Her point was that tragedies are happening to children every day all over the world. I never understand the need to measure how tragic something is or is not. Or the need to point out how much worse one situation is than another. You lost your dad? Well be glad it wasn’t your kid! You had a miscarriage? Well be thankful for the kid you have! You’re grieving? I grieved harder! Ugh. It saddens me so much to think that hard times bring out the absolute worst in
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings so beautifully. I get so upset when I hear people say “if it were me, I’d be…” no matter what the situation is. No one knows how we will truly be in any situation, so it’s best to not predict our actions. It saddens me that people can be so judgemental and spew hateful things. When I read horrible things like that, I pray for that person. Their life must be just so awful that they need to make others feel just as awful. Then I remind myself that there ARE more good than bad out there.
Thanks Mike. My neighbors recently lost their teenager in a car accident and this post is very helpful. I feel like reading this site for the past few years has prepared me to understand what they will go through, that while life will go on for those around them, it won’t for them, and they will not be okay or really functional for a long time. I cannot ease their pain but I can promise that I will always take time to keep their child in my memory. This life can be such a terrible crapshoot.
I couldn’t help but think of you and your family throughout the coverage of this tragedy. Sandy Hook has profoundly touched me and laid me low. As did the loss of your Maddie.
Throughout the week of coverage regarding Sandy Hook I have often found myself worried about what will happen to these families when the coverage of this event quiets. When the radio deems it no longer necessary to be “sensitive” and puts songs by Ke$ha and Foster the People back on the air, and life moves on and memories dim. I have struggled with the best way to let these families know that I will always, always think of them and their families. I will never forget.
I rarely post, but I read this blog daily and devotedly. And, saying the above makes me realize that I should also tell you and Heather this same thing, because it’s true: Not a day goes by that the thought of you all doesn’t cross my mind. I will never forget Maddie, you and your family will always, always be in my thoughts and prayers.
Excellent. My fear for these families is that the rest of us will move on and they will be forgotten. I dred for them the time when it begins to hit them. For days after I was touched so deeply that I couldn’t stop crying, barely ate and wanted to do nothing but hold onto my children. I feel like I am beginning to get back to normal and then it hits me that those parents have no more normal to go back to. I hope that we can honor them in some small way by always remembering and always praying for them.
I will do my part to honor their memory by not taking my children for granted ever again. I will say “yes” more even if its a little inconvenient for me at the time. I will stop and really listen to their stories. There will be more play time and longer bedtime routines. Because life is too short to tell our children to “hold on” or “maybe another time”. We may not get another time. And if we’re lucky enough to see our children grow into adults and have children of their own, then we will be blessed with so many memories and less regrets.
Thanks for writing this, Mike.
I’ve become so angry reading the words of some people lately. I don’t understand how anyone can have their judgy pants on, especially at a time like this.
As parents, I would think we would all be horrified and want to help in any way possible. I know that is how I felt after Maddie passed, and how I feel now.
Grief has no expiration date, whether it be for a child, a sibling or a parent. I lost my dad over 20 years ago and sometimes it still hits me over the head like a shovel.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to find ways to honor him, Maddie, Noah, and all the other people I know who were taken way too damn soon.
Really good post. As someone that has lost a friend in a school shooting, I really appreciate your words. I still think about my friend very very often, and it’s been a long time since she was taken from this earth. You never 100% get over it. It’s just gross what people feel is necessary to say on message boards, facebook pages, or comment sections regarding these families’ grief or how we should or shouldn’t respond to them based on some circumstance beyond anyone’s control. No parent should have to bury their child. None! To try to downplay their need for compassion at such a time as this is really just lower than low. These poor families deserve better than to have to try to navigate the coming days, months, years ahead AND everyone’s judgements on how they choose to do that.
Really good post. As someone that has lost a friend in a school shooting, I really appreciate your words. I still think about my friend very very often, and it’s been a long time since she was taken from this earth. You never 100% get over it. It’s just gross what people feel is necessary to say on message boards, facebook pages, or comment sections regarding these families’ grief or how we should or shouldn’t respond to them based on some circumstance in their life that this person has deemed so important. No parent should have to bury their child. None! To try to downplay their need for compassion at such a time as this is really just lower than low. These poor families deserve better than to have to try to navigate the coming days, months, years ahead AND everyone’s judgements on how they choose to do that.
Also, some of the Sandy Hook parents are (possibly) helped by the fact that they have other children to take care of. They can’t collapse into a room and weep for days, because they have to stay strong for their other kids, who desperately need their parents as they cope with the almost unimaginable loss of a sibling in this manner.
A decade ago, two of my cousins were murdered by one cousin’s husband, who then killed himself. Their mother was obviously devastated. But she also had to stay strong for her young grandchildren — she became the legal guardian of two of them — and I think that kept her busy and kept her together.
This post is so well stated. As for the trolls… unfortunately the Internet allows everyone to see *all* sides of human nature. All you can do is pray that those lost souls, who judge others so harshly, will one day have a softer heart.
I wish that no parent would know how it feels to lose their child – its so unfair and I wish you had your Maddie with you still. I am a resident of Sandy Hook – the support from around the world has been incredible. Unless you have been here, my description of the town would not do it justice. Before this tragedy, we were a loving, giving , close community. We all know each other or know someone who knows someone. After the tragedy it is ten fold. Not only do the neighbors look out for each other but the police department, the school district and town officials all embrace their community. You would think that the safe feeling we all had over a week ago would be diminished but it has not. We are all here for each other, we are not a shattered community we are a strong, loving community with absolutely shattered hearts. We will rebuild – not just the school but our hearts and spirit. We will always, always feel the loss of 26 incredible angels but we will embrace and love each other now and forever. I promise, there will be nothing but kindness shown to all the families victims now and forever.
There are other bloggers and commenters out there who choose to muddy the waters and shift the conversation to themselves and their concerns. I don’t understand it and I agree with everything you said. The parents in Sandy Hook deserve every bit of compassion and concern they can get. How anyone can begrudge these families anything and try to pass judgment on the media response or the way the public is handling it is beyond me. There is, unfortunately, a limitless amount of heartaches for us to discuss. That doesn’t mean that in these parents’ greatest time of need that we need to try to compare and contrast. There are a few bloggers looking for controversy and attention. How heartless. So thankful for your insight on this!
Thank you for posting this Mike. Beautifully written, I only wish you didn’t have to write it.
leigh elliott says:
Very well said, Mike.
This is lovely and beautifully said. Just by terrible chance, two separate friends knew children at Sandy Hook. They are devastated, the community is devastated, the nation is devastated. As we should be.
I want, though, to gently respond to this sentence: “Hundreds of kids died in Africa since Friday, but who’s talking about them?” I don’t think this sentiment needs to be interpreted as thinking LESS attention needs to be given to the Sandy Hook shootings. Rather, we should pay attention to all our neighbors (at home and abroad) and fight for a better world. Single deaths of children, as you surely know better than anyone, are no less painful for their families than those killed with their classmates. In the last three years *270* children have been killed in Chicago. That’s the equivalent of one Sandy Hook about every seven months. It is precisely because death is so routine there that we don’t hear about it – this is unacceptable.
Especially when we have national conversations about mental health, poverty, school safety, and gun control, those less-publicized deaths need to be part of the picture. My fear is that they won’t be, and the sole spotlight on the larger single tragedies such as Sandy Hook will lead to suboptimal policies in terms of protecting all our citizens, every day. Let’s not take time away from Sandy Hook to think about the children dying in Africa, or the children dying in our own cities – let’s add those stories and data to the coverage.
Rachel (Piper_H) says:
I have thought that very thing… how can the parents of the murdered children even get out of bed? But it took days for the true tragedy to sink in even for me, so I can understand how they’d be in a state of shock. You send your child to school and they are shot to death. I think that is more than any parent can process. It’s like it didn’t happen… until the shock fades and reality is made all too real. My heart breaks for them (and you) and any parent who has had to bury their child. I pray for you all and hold my children closer, thankful to be able to do that.
Great post, as always. Thank you for speaking up for these families.
I saw someone comment on Heather’s fb page recently about one child receiving more attention than the others and it made me equally mortified for, angry at and scared for that woman. Why anyone would think, let alone post in a public forum on the page of someone who they know lost a child is beyond me. I truly hope people like that get the help that they so clearly need. I’m just sorry that Heather had to read those words. They must have been so upsetting.
I wish there was some way I could take the heartbreak of losing a child away from all those who have gone through it. It is so unfair and just should not be that way.
Love and prayers being sent your way, today and always. And of course to the Sandy Hook families as well. I will never forget those sweet angels.
Amen! Beautiful post!
My heart is already heavy for these parents for when “the world moves on.”
When my nephew died, I felt that the whole world should just…stop…as ours had. I longed for the days when you hung a black wreath or ribbon on your door so people would know it was a house of mourning. Or to wear those black arm bands that signified you were in mourning.
In 3, 6, 9 , 12 months time (and beyond) these families are going to need cards & letters reminding them they aren’t alone and have not been forgotten. The US Postal Service set up a post box for them…may I suggest we all remember them over the coming months after the shock has worn off & reality has set in?