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?”
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.