[This is not a print-and-give letter. It is a read-and-translate letter. As you read it, ask yourself two questions: (a) How would I say these kinds of things? and (b) How would my child best receive this? It is probably better to think about snippets of this letter coming out over multiple conversations rather than writing your own version of this complete letter.]
There is no way you should know how to respond to the things that have happened. Sometimes the adults in your world tell you that and it’s because you’re too young (“you’ll understand when you get older” kind of thing). But this isn’t because you’re young. It is because these things should never happen. This is not something any of us should have been prepared for.
I can’t tell you what do with the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. I’m not that smart and there aren’t easy answers. But if I could offer one piece of advice, it would be, don’t face them alone. If you’re afraid, I’m here. If you’re angry, I want to hear it. If you just don’t want to be alone, I’ll sit quietly with you. If you want to go for a ride to get out of the house, just ask.
There’s a line in The Lord of the Ring movie. Sam says to Frodo, “I can’t carry your burden, but I can carry you.” That’s the kind of parent-friend I want to be. I may not be able to make the pain or fear go away, but I can make sure you don’t feel trapped by it. Bring it to me. We’ll figure something out, even if it’s only the next person we need to talk to.
This will be an event that we always remember. Unfortunately, it will be one of those occasions when we realize that the world is a less innocent place than we wish it was. But it doesn’t have to be something that changes your life ambitions. It can be big, even huge, without detouring your life for the worse. Sometimes when we think “things will never be the same,” we assume this also means “everything about the future is ruined.” As we figure these things out together, I can promise you the second statement doesn’t have to be true.Sometimes when we think “things will never be the same,” we assume this also means “everything about the future is ruined.” As we figure these things out together, I can promise you the second statement doesn’t have to be true. Click To Tweet
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Chances are we will both try to get ahead of ourselves in the days ahead. When the spot we’re in is painful, it is tempting to think that getting to anywhere else would be better. I feel that. If it were possible to fast-forward to the next chapter of life, I would be tempted to do it.
Right now, what we can do is (a) process the shock and (b) grieve. My guess is we’ll both start a lot of sentences with the phrase, “I can’t believe…” and state something that feels surreal. That’s shock.
- “I can’t believe this happened here. I’ve seen it on the news, but I thought these things only happened in other places.”
- “I can’t believe that someone would be so angry or hurt, that they felt like this was justified. I don’t know how someone gets to that point.”
- “I can’t believe school will ever be the same. Now that I’ve seen school wrapped in yellow police tape, it doesn’t seem like a place I could just hangout again.”
There are not answers for shock. Shock isn’t a riddle. Shock is a response to pain. Processing shock happens as the reality that these things really happened settles in. I’m not there yet. I still feel like I’m going to wake up and realize this was a bad dream. But I don’t think there is any benefit in rushing through shock. If we acknowledge that shock is real, we feel less crazy as we’re going through it. If we talk about, we realize we’re not the only one experiencing it.
We also will probably start a lot of sentences with the phrase, “I miss…” and talk about someone or something that is gone. That’s grief.
- “I miss [name of friend who was killed]. I can’t believe I won’t see them again.”
- “I miss the idea of going to school and a pop quiz being my biggest fear.”
- “I miss school being a place where I worked towards my future instead of being a place where the past is so dominant.”
These things (i.e., our friend, innocent fears, dreaming about the future) were good. When we grieve, our sadness is a testimony to how good the people or things we are grieving were. While grief is unpleasant, it isn’t bad; we shouldn’t feel guilty because we’re grieving. Grief means that life is in a major transition. I think it’s pretty normal to feel disoriented when we go through major transitions.
My point is, as you hear yourself saying “I can’t believe…” or “I miss…” those are moments I’d like to share with you. When these thoughts feel heavy, you don’t have to carry them alone.
As I think about all we’ve been through, it reminds me how much I love you and what a gift it is to get to be your mom/dad. Every day with you is a gift. I don’t want to take those gifts for granted even when the days are sad. I’m proud of you and I want to be one of the tools God uses to help you navigate this difficult season.
* * * This article is one part of a series on “Parents and Churches Responding to School Violence.”