An open letter to the parents of Columbine, Red Lake, West Nickel Mines, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook and an invitation to find peace and restoration on Kaua`i, Hawai`i with a free retreat
A parent’s worst fear is the death of their child. A bereaved parent’s worst fear is that their child will be forgotten. I know this firsthand.
I sat in my living room feeling my daughter’s kicks in my womb as I witnessed the events of Columbine unfold. I thought, “I simply cannot imagine how those parents must feel when an official tells them that their son or daughter was fatally shot.” I then spent the next few weeks, riveted to the news. With my then newborn daughter Alison nestled in my arms, I was even more sympathetic to your loss.
Six years later when I heard of Red Lake, I thought, “Welcome to the worst club you never ever want to be in. There’s no secret handshake, no hidden benefits. It’s just hell.” You see, by then I had lost my precious Alison at the age of five.
And then came West Nickel Mines and Virginia Tech less than a year later. I simply couldn’t take it in.
Sandy Hook hit even closer to home. Your children were just a year older than my Alison when she died. I could relate to where you were in the raising of your sons and daughters, the unfinished art projects laying on the table, the regret over not reading just one more bedtime story the night before, the loss of an unlived future.
When I read the Facebook posts about Parkland, I thought this time of all of you: the parents of Columbine, Red Lake, West Nickel Mines, Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook.
Immediately after the death of our children there is an outpouring of love and support. Meals we can’t even eat pile in the fridge and freezer, cards stack up on the desk, and flowers take up all the counter space. Over the next few weeks, support continues to trickle in at a slower and slower pace.
By the time we’re approaching the firsts of everything we wonder if people will remember we’re missing a part of ourselves. They do. Then the second year comes, and most don’t. Unfortunately, we are hit even harder this year than the first because we’ve come to realize this IS our new normal. Life has gone on for everyone else. We look good on the outside and it appears we’ve carried on with life. Maybe we’ve started a toy drive or a campaign in honor of our child. But the pain, the grief, the hole in our heart runs deep. Sometimes we wonder as time marches on for everyone else if our child’s memory is left in the past with their life.
As a bereaved parent myself I say, “NO! Never.” Your child is not forgotten. Your child’s life has meaning and you are still here for a reason. We’ve gone through years of our families gathering together at Thanksgiving without our son or daughter. We’ve celebrated birthdays and remembered death dates over and over. The pain dulls and our lives move forward but they are never the same. Nor would we want them to be. Our children’s lives mean something and over time we can find a way to honor our past that included our children’s physical presence. We learn to live in the present moment – finding ourselves laughing again, enjoying the natural beauty around us, and doing things for the simple joy it brings. And finally, one day we can even find ourselves embracing a future. A future where we make plans giving us purpose and joy while never forgetting our child’s memory.
Coming out of my own loss and healing I created Ohana Oasis, a non-profit that provides retreats free of charge for parents like us. We offer a week on Kauai, Hawaii, providing peace and restoration, a space for parents to begin the journey of rediscovering joy in life after the death of a child. While we can’t save the lives of your children, we can give you tools to live a lifetime of purpose and joy in their honor. I’m personally inviting you apply and become part of our ohana (family). We love you and we honor your child. If you would like to accept this invitation, please go to www.ohanaoasis.org/we-remember-application. Parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas victims may apply, however because our retreats are customized for parents who have been through the grief process for at least two years, an invitation to participate in a retreat will not be extended until at least 2020.
We Remember…with love and honor,