As you may know, I lost my daughter Parker, my only child at the time, to cancer just days before her first birthday. I cannot express the pure terror of that experience. The reality of shopping for a coffin and choosing a burial plot for your only child is a horror that is thankfully rare in modern America.
It is with this personal experience I have a special sensitivity to what the families in Newtown, Connecticut, are now suffering. I lost my child to illness, and at least had the opportunity to try to comfort her and tell her how much I love her. The families of Newtown had no such luxury, no such last goodbye.
For the last decade, I have had an internal battle trying to understand why God or nature would cause my little girl to suffer so. But for these families, that internal struggle will be greatly expanded. How does a parent even begin to comprehend why another human would steal away their child in such a way?
With a dead child and a son now living with Down syndrome I have lived through experiences I despise. Even so, I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and raw fear that these people are now forced to endure. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
I have learned something of grief, and the long, slow process it takes. Fortunately, there were many dear friends, family, and professionals to help me steer my way through it. Grief may be delayed somewhat, but it never can be avoided. And it is a bitch.
In the immediate madness after my daughter’s death I had little hope, and thoughts of drastic actions filled my mind. A counselor with special expertise in grieving was quite stern with me. Under no circumstances was I to make any major changes in my life for at least a year. Simply, there was no way I, or anyone in my situation, could see reality clearly enough and calmly enough to weigh important decisions.
I wasn’t to kill myself, quit my job, move away, squander my savings, start doing drugs, or anything for at least a year. And I so desperately wanted to do all those things at different times. She insisted I wasn’t to allow the pain and madness drive a decision that would be hard or impossible to undo if it was wrong.
Grieve first, then make decisions — not the other way around.
This advice not to make decisions during such pain is echoing through by body today as strongly as it did when I wanted to take all those insane actions myself. If I had gone down even one of those paths, it would have been a massive mistake. I see that now. My counselor was right. I can’t thank her enough.
I fear that we, collectively, are not wise enough to take this advice today. And we so need to. In the immediate pain and madness of this crime, the desire to do something, something big, something different, is nearly overwhelming, uncontrollable. I know what this feels like all too well. It feels like it makes all the sense in the world to ban certain firearms, throw restrictions on the law-abiding, disarm civilians, turn ourselves against the Bill of Rights, just as my desires made perfect sense to me during my time of pain.
But given my experience, I worry where we will find ourselves years from now if we allow grief and the madness of pain to take us down a path from which we can’t return. Let us grieve. Let us walk through the pain and hurt and fear. Clear thinking will return, in time. Then let us talk clearly and calmly about the serious decisions that might change us forever.