breathe in the sorrow. breathe out peace.

I’m not sure about writing this.

“Spare us the posts about how hard this is on you,” someone or other said on Twitter last Friday. “This is not about you. #Newtown.”

Indeed, this is not about any of our sorrow– it’s about sorrow that is far, far beyond our comprehension.

But for three days, I have been mourning the loss of these twenty children so deeply that I have had to hide from my own children, shutting the bathroom door so they won’t see me weeping and ask me why. It probably says much about the luckiness of my own life that I am grieving for these twenty families more than I have ever grieved in my life.

I found out on Friday night that I actually know one of the mothers who has lost a child. She was my friend’s roommate, and when I first moved to New York City, a lifetime ago, we saw each other all the time. I haven’t spoken to her in many years. But her pain has been my last thought before falling asleep, my first thought upon awaking. And nearly every thought in between.

We haven’t told our kids about what happened. Once they came home on Friday afternoon clearly uninformed of the day’s events, it was far easier to turn over the newspapers and turn off the television than to broach the topic with them. But then I read that I was supposed to be talking to them about it before they heard somewhere else. So on Saturday morning, I asked my ten-year-old if he’d heard any rumors about a school in Connecticut. “No,” he said. “Why? What kind of rumors?” And I started backpedaling furiously, feeling the sadness and the rage and knowing I was not going to be able to say anything useful. “Nothing,” I said. “Forget I said it. FORGET IT.”

Connor looked at me. “Is is something really bad?” he asked. “Something you know and you want to know if I know, but you don’t want me to know?”

Pretty much.

I know Connor was confused this morning when I stopped him at the school door to pull him back and bless his forehead with a shaking hand. And I know he’ll be confused if (when?) he hears some half-truths in the cafeteria today. I’m just not sure I know how to protect him.

Liz Gumbinner of Mom 101 put it this way on Twitter:


Yes.  And it was such a relief to take my younger two children to their classrooms and find them full of buzz about the Christmas pageant on Friday, and nothing else. But even that was weird, all of us parents standing around being extra-cheery. I wanted a button of my own that said

I’m barely holding it together. How about you?

I felt like I was the only parent at school this morning who was going to run back to her car and cry. Then again, maybe everyone else did just that– but we were all equally determined to hold it together while we stood in that pre-K classroom.

Grieving like this, especially for others’ misfortunes, can feel embarrassing or inappropriate or just wrong, especially when you’re doing it alone. Which is why, once again, I am so grateful for the sisterhood and the wisdom I have found in other women who write online. This is from Kyran Pittman’s blog, Planting Dandelions, just this morning:

If I were this affected by the loss of a child I’d never met, belonging to a friend I hadn’t seen or heard from in years, what must her own mother be going through? How could she ever sleep, or even make it through the next breath? And then a thought occurred to me. Maybe these sudden pangs of sorrow were invitations to carry a bit of her burden for a moment. Maybe, by taking in that pain, I was somehow converting it at a collective, unconscious level, so that my friend could catch her own breath for a second. Maybe human suffering is meant to have an overflow valve — what one of us cannot handle alone, spills over into the hearts of others. Who knows? But the thought gave me peace, and forever changed the way I meet grief that arises from other people’s tragedy.

I later learned that this is very much like a Buddhist principle called Tonglen, that teaches neither to resist or cling to suffering when it comes, but breathe in the pain, and breathe out peace. A kind of spiritual photosynthesis that helps everyone.

Today, I’d really like to think this is true. “It helps me, anyway,” as Kyran wrote. Today I am going to breathe in the sorrow and breathe out peace. It doesn’t feel like much. But it’s a place to start.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Kyran Pittman December 17, 2012 at 6:21 pm

Thank you, Amy. I’m so glad it could bring some comfort and validation. I don’t think I want to live in the world of the first twitter commenter above. If we can’t connect with other people’s grief, see ourselves in their shoes, we have no empathy. Compassion is about being with someone in their sorrow, not about making it “about” us.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 2:59 am

I think that’s right, Kyran- and I loved the idea of Tonglen, how our sadness can have a purpose. I was just wary of sounding like “oh my god you guys it’s so hard to be me, I’m so sad” when I get to tuck my three children in tonight. Posts like yours, though, helped me realize I’m not alone in these feelings of grief. So thanks.


Shari Simpson December 18, 2012 at 2:45 am

A mom caught me crying outside my kids’ school after dropoff this morning. I hope there is an overflow valve–I would love to think that I could take on some of their burden.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 2:57 am

Thanks Shari. When I think of you feeling emotional, I think, well of course, she’s so compassionate and lovely. But I’m there crying, and I think, get over yourself. It is helpful to think that our grief for strangers might have a purpose.


sarah December 18, 2012 at 3:11 am

My son did talk about it today because the school informed them. This was extremly difficult to deal with. I cried and my 6 year old daughter started crying. Of course neither of them can truly understand the magnitude of the situation however, they do knoq that it’s really bad. Luckily, their school has councelors there all week if any children need them for help with their grief or are confused. I still don’t know if i agree with the school tellin them though.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 3:15 am

I would NOT be okay with the school telling them. I can see them handling questions if kids asked. But it shouldn’t be up to them to decide what your kids should handle. Our school sent home a letter saying that most kids seemed blissfully unaware and how happy they were about that, and that any kids who wanted to talk about it were being gently taken aside to do that one on one.


sarah December 18, 2012 at 4:25 am

We got a letter home notifying that they did tell them and that there were councelors on stand by for the rest of the week. I definatly feel that it could’ve been handled better. I do understand that yes they will eventually need to know about it bu I feel that maybe a letter home to us on tips on how to approach it would have been a better solution.


Windy December 18, 2012 at 5:38 am

I am grateful for this post.Thank you. What a wise and comforting train of thought, and I feel better than I have since this happened, just a little bit lighter, a way to stroke the wings of the butterflies going crazy in my stomach- lulling them to a calmness for a moment, a way to remind them when they start to get nervous again. Thank you for sharing Kyran’s words. I am very sorry for your old friend’s loss, such a simple sentence that makes me cringe even writing it because it is not enough, nothing can penetrate the loss she is feeling…. I too appreciate the community of women online, that can mourn together. I have been left feeling like a bumbling idiot because I could hardly speak a coherent sentence on Friday and everyone else was moving about their day in a normal fashion, or so it seemed. People I am surrounded with do not want to talk about it, and while my husband has a beautiful heart and soul- he does not want to see any images on TV, he asked me to turn the news off today when he walked in and they were showing pictures of those beautiful children. His heart can not handle it maybe…. I wanted to see the news while I had the opportunity, between work and my 3 and 5 year at home I have hardly seen any. I want to shield my babies from this insanity. They do not need to lose even a fraction of their innocence. If they hear something, I will talk to them then, we will figure it out if and when the time comes.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 7:49 pm

I know how you feel Windy. I think my husband is wondering why I’m choosing to engage with it all so directly. But it doesn’t feel like a choice to me.


Mrs. Pitt December 18, 2012 at 1:52 pm

I’m with you;: I put myself in the place of those parents and still, I can’t imagine. I’m looking for places to help me make it through, because I know it’s not about me, and yet it is about me. Because I’m scared.

I’m scared.



Morgan December 18, 2012 at 2:38 pm

What a beautiful post. Thank you so much, this really helped me.


Kate Mayer December 18, 2012 at 4:36 pm

This is about you, and Newtown wants you to make it about you. This is about all of us who care about living in a peaceful world where 7 year olds are allowed to turn 8. Where teachers teach and not shield. Where kids get on the bus, and come home again. I know these folks who are struggling with unfathomed catastrophe, and at our first of many wakes last night, the dad of one beautiful little boy in a tiny white casket…consoled us.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm

Thanks Kate. It means a lot to hear you say that our grief and our sorrow means something, anything at all, to the people who live there.


Bridget Floyd Calacci December 18, 2012 at 6:31 pm

It is about you. and it’s about me. And it’s about every parent out there who aches for these parents who in an instant lost their world. I loved every word you wrote in this piece, and have shared in on my Facebook wall. As a parent I have felt “this isnt’ about me” so many times these past few days, until I allowed myself to accept that it IS. It’s about ALL of us. And I’m with you, if I can be an overflow for a parent experiencing this first hand, then by all means, overflow.


amywlsn December 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Thank you Bridget.


Lorraine, CT. December 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm

My heart goes out to all of the families that were directly affected by this terrible tragedy. I could never presume to know the depth of grief you are living with. All I can do is assure you that you are ever present in caring people’s thoughts and prayers. Peace and love to all of you.


Betsy Shaw December 19, 2012 at 2:55 am

I like the breathing trick. And all those peaceful exhalations are bound to soften up the air a bit. Thanks.


Kathy at kissing the frog December 19, 2012 at 5:48 am

Just beautiful, Amy. I cannot believe someone said, “This is not about you.” Of course it is. It is about all of us. All of us whose children it could have been. It hits closer and closer to home every single time. For me, it was the fact that I have lost a six year old, and I know how it feels to wake up the next day and not believe it’s really true. It is about all of us because we all can imagine, as horrible as it is, what it would be like to lose one of our children. Just being a parent means we breathe in sorrow every day and try to breathe out peace. We all are sending so much love and so many prayers to the Sandy Hook community.


Courtney December 19, 2012 at 8:43 pm

You are not alone. I have been weepy and emotional since this happened. I cried for two straight hours when this happened, and I was at work. I had to sit in my office with my door closed, because I couldn’t hold it together. I’ve been mourning and grieving, and although my children are are young (4 and 1) we did talk to our 4 year old a bit. She needs to know what she should do if this were to God forbid happen (run, run, run) and she just knows that some people were hurt. That is all she needs to know. My husband is a teacher, so I feel it on that magnitude, too – he works in a high school where everyone has to go through a metal detector, and there is a cop there, all the time, armed. (Not a teacher armed, a policeman, important fact to note). I have no answers, and never will. But I will share in their pain, I will cry with them, I will hug my children tight, and I will……hope. Hope that the families will find some semblance of peace, sometime….hope that this NEVER happens again….hope that change is on its way….all we can do is cry, and pray, and HOPE.


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