Tuesday, December 18, 2012

in which I finally acknowledge tragedy and begin to grieve

Friday the news rocked my world.  Friday I tucked my heart into hiding for a few days.  Children killed.  Parents grieving.  I just couldn't wrap my brain around it.  I didn't watch the news.  I didn't listen to the radio.  I stopped looking at Facebook feeds.  I tried so hard to isolate myself from this horrible evil.  I think I felt like if I didn't acknowledge it that it didn't really happen.

A friend of mine reminded me that my reaction was not really unusual.  We just got through another shooting, one in my neighborhood, in my theater.  I don't want to think about yet another shooting.  I don't want to think of children crying and scared.  I don't want to think of the instant lump in my throat when I imagine being a parent there and looking for news of my children.  I want to pretend it never happened.

Yesterday when a friend texted me asking how my oldest was doing with the news of the shooting, I realized that we have to tell our kids.  Other kids my son's age know.  I cannot keep this from them, they will find out whether I tell them or not.  I sat on my bed an leaned into my husband's strong arms.  Tears slid down my cheeks and I realized something.  It wasn't out of fear that I had not told my children.  It wasn't trying to protect them that I hadn't talked about it.  It was simply self preservation.  If I talked about it then it really happened.  So the woman who has told her children about the Ft. Hood shooting (they asked on that one), and about the theater shooting, and about missing, later found murdered, little Jessica Ridgeway couldn't bring herself to tell them about this shooting.

Tomorrow my boys go back to school, the first time since the Sandy Hook shooting.  Tonight they needed to hear.  I read everything I could find online about talking with my kids about this.  Turns out that I already knew it, I just didn't want to do it.  So if you are like me and words swirled incoherently in your brain, here is how we talked to OUR kids.  This is what worked for OUR family.

First we didn't tell them the ages of the children or the number of children killed.  My oldest was already in tears once we said "another shooting in a different state in a school" and the number of dead and the ages was too much information for his tender heart.  Your kid may be different and may need those details to process.

We focused on the heroes.  We talked about the teacher who hid her students and died protecting them.  We talked about the teacher who kept her kids in a bathroom and read to them and told them how much she loved them so that they would hear her loving words more than the scary noises around them.  We talked about the goodness of people even as the evil was going on around them.

We never once reassured them that they are safe.  I know all the papers say to, but I couldn't.  Those children killed on Friday morning all thought they were safe.  I'd rather my kids know that Jesus is with them even when it is scary or unsafe than have them believe they are safe and then God forbid one day have them discover that they are not safe.  So we focused on that God is good even when life isn't.  We focused on the comfort that God says He gives us in times of hurt.  We didn't focus on safety because that is not something I can guarantee.  God's love is something that I can guarantee.  Let's stick with what I KNOW to be true.

We talked about how some people get sick in their head but feel different from everybody else and so they don't get help.  We talked about how just like it is ok for my kids to take medicine for an ear infection, that it is ok for people whose brains are sick to take medicine to help their brains.  Maybe if I can start erasing the stigma of mental illness with my children now while they are young, they will remember it when they are older and will continue to fight it when they grow up.

We talked about what we can do to make this world a better place.  We talked about being nice to the lonely kid in the corner.  We talked about praying for those who hurt us.  We talked about choosing love even when it is hard.  We talked about how you don't know someone else's story.  Maybe they are mean because they are sad and no one listens to them, or they are being hurt, or mom and dad are fighting or divorcing.  You don't know what is going on in someone's life or why they behave the way they do.  You never know when a kind word is enough to change a person's day or maybe his life.

My middle child asked us the name of the guy who killed those people.  I told him if he wants to remember a name he should remember the name Victoria Soto because she was a hero.  I told him I don't want to remember the name of the shooter, I want to remember the names of the people who died as heroes.  Later when it was just me and him he said, "But, Mom, I just want to know his name so I can pray for him to know God.  I want him to know God and serve God.  He really needs God most of all and I just want to pray for him."  My heart melted a hundred times over.  I told him that the man had killed himself after he killed the other people.  I asked if there were anymore questions.  He said no.  I asked him to describe how he was feeling, he said sad and confused.  He was confused at why the guy would kill himself.  I love my precious boys and the tenderness already in their young hearts.

It is never easy to have to take away a piece of my children's innocence.  It is never easy to tell them that evil things happen.  But somehow we do it.  I believe that they need to know they can talk to mom and dad.  I believe that they need to know we will be honest, that we will answer questions, that they can talk about the hard stuff with us.  I also believe that when it comes to big news, they need to hear it from us before they hear it from friends whenever possible.  My beliefs sometimes suck.  Sometimes those beliefs make talking to my children heart wrenching.  Being a parent is hard!

And I'm going to end it off with some links to some really well written things that have either helped me process myself or reminded me that I can indeed talk to my children.



http://www.ordinarycourage.com/my-blog/2012/12/14/prayers-for-the-sandy-hook-elementary-school-community.html  (this one also links several websites for talking to kids about violence or tragedy)

http://www.jeffcopublicschools.org/ (if you live in Jefferson County in Colorado, the schools website gives some information about free trauma counseling)

The Role for Caring Adults After a School or Community Tragedy

Aurora Public Schools has a phone number rather than a website if you think your kids need help professional help processing.  The following is taken from the written response APS gave  on their website to the recent tragedy: If you would like assistance connecting with a counselor, please contact staff at your children’s school or Aurora Mental Health at 303-617-2300.

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