I usually write humorous, personal essays about my experiences and observations, but today, that is not what is on my mind. Today, I remember where I was on December 14th, 2012.
On a beautiful, fall-like day (typical for December in Alabama), I was taking an hours-long walk with my friend Jen – what we called our Friday Walk and Talk Therapy Sessions (WATTS) – and when I returned home late that morning, happy and refreshed from both the talk and the walk, I logged onto my laptop to discover that Newtown had happened.
School-shooting! Dozens Dead! Twenty first graders and their six teachers! Oh. My. God. I cried. Belatedly, when I remembered that it was 10 days before Christmas Eve, I sobbed.
I wept every day for a week. Every morning, I dropped my daughter off at school, waving like a lunatic, with a brave smile and barely checked tears, as she walked through the doors, desperately hoping that this would not be the last time I saw her.
Day-long sobbing gave way to only tearing up occasionally, and before I knew it, I realized that Christmas was upon us and I had my own 7-year-old daughter to take care of – just a year older than the murdered children at Sandy Hook Elementary.
I could not take it anymore. I could not bear it. Imagining myself in those parents’ shoes was killing me. I was tired – and disgusted – by the tiny voice in the darkest part of my soul – the one we all have, if we would admit it – that was saying “It’s okay. It wasn’t you. Thank God. It wasn’t you, or your daughter or your family. It happened to someone else. For today, you get to go on.”
So, I simply decided to stop thinking about it. I stopped grieving for them. I put the whole horrific tragedy away in a drawer marked “Top Security Clearance.”
As the first anniversary approaches and I am overcome with sadness yet again, as I reflect on the horror of just one year ago, at what should be the happiest time of the year for most American families, I also remember with guilt, that those parents don’t have the “luxury” I have. They can’t just get tired of the grief and take it off and lay it down like a coat that is out of fashion because everywhere they try to lay it is a place where their child once stood. Or sang. Or played. Or laughed. Or drew a picture. There is no place on earth without their child’s memory on which they can lay their coat of grief.
I don’t know how they bear it.
So on Saturday, December 14th, 2013, I will put the coat back on, out of respect, and love – sympathy and grief, and I will think about those parents in Newtown. I will let myself feel a tiny, tiny piece of what they feel, and I’ll remember their child – or mother or friend. I will marvel at the courage and sacrifice of the adults who ran into harm’s way that day, the teachers who held children as they died together, telling them not to be afraid. Out of respect, I will choose to feel again, in order to honor them.
Then, on Sunday, maybe even late Saturday afternoon, I will take off my coat and life for me will go on as it did before, and my tiny, dark voice will whisper, “Calm down. Breathe. You’re okay. It didn’t happen to you.”
(With worthless words, and nothing better to offer, my deepest condolences to the families affected by the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary on December 14, 2012. Our collective hearts break for you.)