Dear Santa Fe parents,
I would say welcome to the club, but the word "welcome" seems crude in this context. You didn’t seek out this club. It’s a club of random chance and happenstance. One day you woke up, expecting another mundane day. You made breakfast, packed lunches, and you likely gave your child a hug and a kiss goodbye. By the end of the day, you will know that you will either never hug your child again, or if you can hug them again, you will likely never want to let them go. You will yearn for a mundane day, however, you'll likely not find one again for a good long while.
This is the club that our communities are finding themselves thrust into with the spate of school shootings. As a parent of a Marjory Stoneman Douglas freshman, let me give you a guide map of the next few months — and sadly, you will likely have the opportunity to share your guide with the next set of families sooner than you think.
Right now, you’re in shock. This is the first step. You will carry shock around with you for several more weeks. It’s a word tossed around, but nothing most people have ever felt. Shock allows you to exist on the most basic level of simply breathing. You’re numb, I know. Until you’re not. When you’re not numb, when your brain slowly lets you process one iota of what’s happened, you wish you were numb. It’s agonizing and it physically hurts. Your child may have lost friends, teachers, or your friends may have lost their children. It really does not matter, because when death comes for your children, really no one is truly spared. The next few days are a wasteland, and you will likely not remember much of it. The brain does have a good defense system like that.
Once the fog clears for a few moments, you will gather yourself and you will attempt to comfort your children. You need to teach them how to grieve. Parents always joke we don’t have a parenting manual, however if we did, I doubt most of us would have spent much time in the “How to help your child succeed in the event of a mass shooting” section.
Your children will be watching you, though. You will need to let them see you cry, while allowing them to do so as well. And you will need to show them that communities come together, stand together, and try to heal together. People mean well. There is more good than bad. However, much of it may be lost on you at this time.
Next stop is the funerals. Grief joins shock here and is threatening to knock you off balance. They are both so heavy. You will go to the funerals. You will pay your respects. You will take a piece of every one of those victims home with you. You will look at your children like the day they were born and wonder, "Why was mine spared that day?"
The next stop brings even more baggage with it. Guilt has now joined you, and the load can knock you down. It likely will, but you have to get up. It will be so heavy that sometimes you can’t even breathe. They don’t let you forget about them for long, especially when there are reminders every single place you go. However, you will recognize that your family needs help. You can, and you will, begin the process of getting help. You will be grateful you did.
Guilt is a tricky one. There is no rhyme and no reason why you may have your child and someone else does not. There is no answer, so do not try to find one. This is easier said than done, and guilt will find you whenever you enjoy a moment or milestone with your child, and hang out on the sidelines, pacing for you to notice and acknowledge it.
On the next stop, it’s anger that will join and cripple the already heavy load. “Why. Why. Why.” Like a 3-year-old child, you will obsess on the “why” and the “what if.” There will be no satisfaction in this. There will never be an answer that can absolve the pain. Don’t get stuck here. You need your reserves to heal yourself and your family.
Sadly, it’s only been three months since a coward boy — like in your case — murdered our children and teachers. The story doesn’t ever seem to change, nor do any solutions seem to arise from it. I wish I could tell you the next stop. Had I been afforded more time in between our massacres, I could have offered you more guidance.
However, I will leave you with this: Some days, I feel hope. I feel hope that my daughter will grow up and have a regular high school experience. I feel hope that this wasn’t her defining moment. I feel hope when I see students standing up for change. I feel hope that goodwill outweighs evil, and that there is more good than bad in the world.
I know hope is out there. It’s elusive, but I want to grab onto it and hold it. I know you will; let yourself. You will need it for the next set of children.