Death and Things

My grandmother recently passed away. Life was exhausting her and she was anxious to go. Now she is free and to those of us still here, there is some peace in knowing that.

Last week I flew to Connecticut to be with my father and brother and sort through her things. When we arrived at the nursing home where she spent the last six months of her life, her sheets still warm, we were directed down the hall to where all her stuff had been boxed and bagged. Ninety-two years and all that remained were two plastic bags of clothes, two small boxes and a few pictures that hung on the wall to remind her of how life once was. I claimed the blown-up photograph my grandfather took of the house they filled with love, family and lots of flowers.

The three of us just stood there looking down at this pile of my grandmother’s things that had been bagged and boxed and shoved in a hallway to await their fate. The staff had to “turn the room” because they had a “new admission” on the way. Other than a yellow sweater, we donated all of her clothes to the nursing home so that others might find use for them. Later that night we would sort through the boxes and pictures.

My brother and I had so much fun dusting off pictures from the early 1900s of my grandmother as a young girl. She was apparently quite an athlete, and underneath that proper smile and those fancy clothes was a wide-eyed, fearless girl—a warrior on the inside.

She kept immaculate records of birthdays and important events. She earmarked poems and bible verses that offered her strength during trying times. Now they offered us strength. My grandmother was wise. But so much of her wisdom we were only just discovering—an unfortunate reality of living so far away.

What I didn’t expect during my visit was to hear all the wonderful stories about her from those with whom she spent most of her days, some even to the very end. She was funny and kind but sharp and direct. So many people came up to tell me how proud she was of me and how I was such a light in her life. I didn’t know this, and it made me a little sad because I’ve been wrapped up in my own life and wasn’t as present as I should have, could have been.

So, there are regrets in life. I wish I had taken the time to ask her about her memories, her dreams, her ideas, her regrets, her loves, passions and hopes. Because when people leave this world, they take with them all of these things.


My grandmother, Helen, with Anson, her great-granddaughter. This was the last photo I ever took of her.

#sandyhook: what’s left to say?


What more can we talk about, sitting here, 1,300 miles away from Newtown, Conn., site of the one of the most horrific mass shootings in U.S. history?

We’ll talk about assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and tightening gun control. We’ll hug and re-hug our own children, trying to hug away images of 20 children lost forever to loving parents. We’ll debate that lethal intersection of mental health and guns.

But when all the talk fades, we’re left with this: a society still grappling with a murderous subculture, where killings populate our newspapers so often we tune them out, where an Al Qaeda terrorist can buy an assault rifle just as easily at a U.S. gun show as at an Afghan market.

The details of the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary were chilling: a 20-year-old disturbed kid using a semi-automatic rifle to shoot and kill 26 people inside an elementary school, 20 of them children 7 years old or younger.

It, of course, horrified me and parents everywhere. Outside our own living rooms, schools are one of the sanctuaries we trust our children to be safe in.

I’m one of the lucky ones: My girls are 2 years old and 6 months – not old enough to comprehend what happened or require an explanation. I dread the thought of having to explain such a monstrous event to such innocence. I barely discussed it with my wife, who understandably chose to forgo the minutia of the incident streaming endlessly onto news portals and TV broadcasts.

But the pain was still there, every time I thought of children huddling under desks or behind doors, only to be discovered by the shooter. Or the horror that grips a parent who’s told their son or daughter didn’t make it out.

This one does feel different from Tucson or Aurora or Virginia Tech. There’s more pain, more outrage. The president and other lawmakers have said more and, so far, done more than at previous mass shootings.

As a society, we’re still left to wrestle with 30,000 shooting deaths each year. Those happen every day, in cities across America. In New Orleans, the awful Newtown casualty count can happen over a busy weekend.

Still, we hold on to our guns. A Pew Research Center survey released Thursday – six days after the Newtown massacre – found 49% of those polled say it’s more important to control gun ownership, while 42% say it’s more important to protect the right of Americans to own guns. That’s the first time in four years that more Americans favor gun control over gun rights, but still less than the 58% who supported gun control in April 2008.

On Friday, the NRA announced its solution to these types of shootings: armed guards in every school in America, a suggestion that incensed the residents of Newtown and may bring further backlash.

Maybe we are at a sea-change moment. Maybe the political rhetoric turns into something hard and enforceable, something that mixes Second Amendment rights with common sense.

Maybe we do keep talking, to each other and to our kids. And when they get old enough to ask about Sandy Hook, you tell them horrible things sometimes happen in this world but there’s enough good left in it to keep it right.

connecticut confusion.

I snapped a picture of these three little shells that I found while walking along the the beach at Watercolor. They remind me of my three daughters. They remind me of angels.

Like so many parents, I am still trying to wrap my head around the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary where twenty first graders and six teachers/administrators were gunned down by a twenty year old boy. I read a few of the reports and commentaries when they first hit the news outlets. The stories were about gun control, mental health, politics, the Second Amendment, the NRA, freedom, the Constitution, finger-pointing and battle cries. I expected one of these things to grab hold of me but nothing resonated. I felt nothing. I heard nothing. I was numb.

I can imagine this is how a parent might feel after learning about the death of a child. So much noise and chaos coming at you from the outside but on the inside, you’re drowning. Voices are muffled. The world slows and all you hear is the pulse of your heart pounding through your chest and in your head. There is absolutely no where to go. Death pours over you and you just have to endure it.

Yesterday I spent the day looking for answers. I googled “Senator Landrieu on gun control” and “Bobby Jindal on mental health”. I emailed Father Henry at Trinity asking for words of hope in my struggle to make sense of all this. I cornered Rabbi Schiller at a party hoping for more answers, more perspective. I shared tears with other mothers. I read through the article and resources that my daughter’s school sent to parents on how to talk to children about such things. I emailed my tribe asking them to share their thoughts on the issue so that we could in some small way be part of the dialogue, part of the healing.

I did all of these things. I still have no answers. And I’m not even sure what the questions are or if they even matter. So I decided to turn off the intellect, quiet the dialogue inside my head and see what that might bring.

I prayed. I cried. I confessed to my husband that my heart was just so heavy. I squeezed my babies. I smelled their hair. I let them be loud. I thanked God they were alive.

None of this, of course, solves whatever problems we have or takes away the pain. But as parents, no matter who we are, where we come from, what continent we live on, how much or how little we have, what our politics or persuasions may be, we are united by a common thread–the love of a child. And it is fitting that a child… that children might unite us because they have so much to teach us. In their innocence comes a freedom to love and to forgive.

And these are the things that will help us heal.

this is not your stage.

I hate that there is no explanation to help any of us understand the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary School… and even more so that there are no words to make us feel better.

I have found it increasingly difficult to watch so many take this opportunity to stand on their bully pulpits and preach their cause – whether you feel access to guns are the root of the problem, a broken mental health system, god no longer in the schools… To all of you I simply say – this is not your stage!

Twenty brave children and six heroic school officials attempting to protect those children had their lives taken. And what about the countless others who stood courageously by their students doing everything in their power to protect and keep them safe? They all deserve a higher level of respect. What the solution is to stop these type of horrific events from happening, I am not sure. But what I do know is that now is the time to put aside extreme beliefs and come together to ensure our laws are protecting all us and protecting America’s children.

In the meantime, all I can do is look at my sweet children, give them extra hugs and make sure everyday that they know just how truly loved they are.

looking beyond the numbers.

No words… as a child psychologist who typically tries to find the right words to help parents and children cope with their own various struggles, I find myself speechless with endless tears.

So often when tragedy strikes, the media tries to focus on numbers…Isn’t that how it works? The more causalities, the larger the death toll, the more press the reporter gets for the story. Just looking at some headlines from past tragedies, I read, for example, that 275,000 homes were lost as a result of hurricane Katrina, “which is ten times as many as any other natural disaster in US history.” I also read that “at least 1,836 people lost their lives in Hurricane Katrina and in the subsequent floods, making it the deadliest US hurricane since the 1928 Okeechobee Hurricane.” Even the headlines when Hurricane Sandy struck were similar: Hurricane Sandy Aftermath: Storm Leaves Millions Without Power, Dozens Dead.

Of course the numbers are important. But what we often fail to pay attention to are the actual people and families that have been impacted. Each person in the count has a real face, personality, story, and people who are truly grieving for the loss of their loved ones.

When I first saw on the news that 28 people, 8 adults and 20 children were killed in the Connecticut school shooting on Friday, like most other causalities from any disaster, it was shocking; I felt sick to my stomach and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

But I decided that I needed to take the time to get to know the people behind the numbers as best as I could. I spent time reading about every boy and girl, man and woman that were killed. I looked at the pictures of the victims and thought about each child:

Charlotte Bacon, 6, Daniel Barden, 7, Olivia Engel, 6, Josephine Gay, 7, Ana Marquez-Greene, 6, Dylan Hockley, 6, Madeleine F. Hsu, 6, Catherine V. Hubbard, 6, Chase Kowalski, 7, Jesse Lewis, 6, James Mattioli, 6, Grace McDonnell, 7, Emilie Parker, 6, Jack Pinto, 6, Noah Pozner, 6, Caroline Previdi, 6, Jessica Rekos, 6, Avielle Richman, 6, Benjamin Wheeler, 6, Allison N. Wyatt, 6.

I looked at her sweet face and cried as I read about how Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Hochsprung died running toward the gunfire to protect her students.

When I put my children to sleep, I hugged them extra tightly and sang some extra bedtime songs. I didn’t want to let go. And now when I lay my head down, I think about how each of those 28 people have families who will not be able to sleep for a long time as they mourn the loss of their loved ones whose lives were brutally taken way too early.

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