August: Dog Days of Summer

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

New Angels

I have not been able to write anything about last Friday's horrible tragic events in Newtown, CT. for many reasons. When I first heard about a young man walking into an elementary school and shooting a bunch of people, I just couldn't believe it. I followed the link that had been e-popped around our office at about 9:30 AM. Sure enough, there was CNN's "Breaking news" story- in the very beginnings of its own inevitable sisyphusian roll. I did not read too much, as I was immediately too shocked and upset to focus on what I knew I would hear and read more about later. I had too much work to get done, and too many other things to do that day. Friday was a super busy day for me, and I just couldn't stop mid-whirlwind or I would lose all momentum. And I needed my momentum. My BFF and I were taking our kids up to Colorado the next day, to ride on the Polar Express. Tickets we had gotten a year ago, and a trip we were supposed to have taken last year- right when my Grandmother died. The Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Rail puts on the Polar Express extravaganza, and it really is magical. They were kind enough last year, to hold and honour our reservation for this year. Nothing was stopping me from making this trip happen for us all, and I had alot to get through on Friday. During the course of the day, I heard more and more soundbites of the events in CT and some more details. Eventually, I had heard enough to make me physically ill and I decided right then that I was not going to turn on any TV news, or go and read further gruesome details online. I knew all I needed to know about what happened and believe me, my own brain was filling in enough of the details on its own. By Friday evening, I was so devastated, I was shaking and ill and could not bring myself to go to sleep. All I could think about was the nightly routine. My nightly routine with my own kids, and the nightly routine of all the mommies on that night, in Connecticut. My brain started to voice (as it does so often these days) what would eventually become this post. I have not been anywhere near able to organize any of this inner monologue until today, when I began furiously jotting down notes as the thoughts started coming in full sentences. I got more terrible news this morning that a good friend from college has just passed away, this very morning, from complications from HIV induced pneumonia. Spence was the kind of person who was like a lighthouse. He was a bright focus, around which everyone wanted to gravitate. He was intelligent, funny, wry, and in your face. And he never gave up fighting his illness. He was a hero. Hearing of his death has wrenched me out of my stupor, to start writing all the stuff that's been floating around up there in the old grey matter for the past few days. This is for you, dear Spencer- my new protecting angel.
This is for all 26 of the angels newly created on Friday, December 14 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.  As the media continues to saturate the world with Adam Lanza's name, I wish, tonight, to focus on the children and, because I'm the mother of two 6 year old kids, I cannot help but to be thinking about the moms. As I said, I have not read too much about this, or watched any news reports. What I have read, and what I have heard, and what I know are how this story has unfolded in my psyche. I cannot stop thinking about the kids. Were any of them conceived through IVF or other forms of ART? After years of struggling through infertility, did their parents finally welcome their precious and so wanted little ones into the world, only to lose them just a few short years later? Were any of them adopted? Were any of them a twin? Were any of them Jewish, in the midst of celebrating Chanukkah? How many of them played in bubbly filled bathtubs the night before? How many of them took showers that morning with either of their parents? Had any of them just passed a life milestone? Just lost a tooth? Just started to sleep at night without a pull-up? Just started to read, write, add, subtract? Whose snack day was it? Did that child bring in a favorite snuggly animal from their bed, or a model they built with their dad, or a family picture? Were any of them wearing a beloved hand-me-down sweater, or handmade one? Did any one of  them just learn how to tie their shoes, ride a bike, swim? Had any of them just gotten over a cold? Sore throat? How many of those kids had brought their own lunches, and who was going to buy a lunch that day? Who among them was dropped off from their car in the drop-off lanes, parents in a rush to get on with their own days? Who was walked into their classroom by one or more parents, maybe having arrived a bit late to school? Who had a tearful or anxious separation from their parent(s) that morning for one reason or another? Had any of them just had a fight with a parent, a sibling, a friend? How many of their parents had had a rough or rushed morning routine and become exasperated with their child for whatever reason? Who had forgotten to say "I love you" that morning?
And what of the morning routine in the classrooms? Had the school just said the Pledge of Allegiance? Were the lunch counts being collected? Were the kids putting their folders away, having snack, sitting in circle, having free choice, starting a lesson?
Were there special Holiday events happening over the weekend that families had had planned (like I had)? How many Christmas cards had already been sent out with complete family pictures? How many of the children killed were only children, without brothers or sisters for their parents to re focus on?
How did the killings themselves go down? Did he simply walk into the room and start shooting at random like a turkey shoot? Were the kids running around the room screaming? Or did (as I've heard) the teacher shove all the kids into a corner and stand in front of them, trying to shield them before they were all shot in the same pile- more like fish in a barrel? How terrified were those children? Did they cry for their mommies? Did they try to run? One of the many many thoughts that plagues me is that they all died away from the arms of their mothers. They died in fear and terror and violence, apart from their families. I have heard that when someone dies suddenly, in a traumatic situation, their soul doesn't know its body has died, and it gets "stuck." These spirits stick around for a while, until they either realize it's time to move on, or they are helped to cross over. I wonder if any of these kids are hanging around their families? I hope none of them is stuck. I'd like to believe they were immediately made into angels, and the only "sticking around" they're doing is to wrap their new wings around their mothers. Because each of those mothers was denied the chance to wrap her arms around her little one as they died. It's common to say that "losing a child is the worst thing for a parent." Children, after they've grown, are supposed to bury their parents- not the other way around. I think it's even worse for mothers to lose their children. That's not to say that it isn't any less difficult for the dads, the grandparents, the sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, etc. But for a mother to lose her child- especially at the age of 6 or 7, is like having a large portion of your heart ripped from your body. I can't help but think of that horrible speech given by Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs when he talks about amputees feeling phantom pain long after a limb has been removed. And for a  mother, where does that pain reside? In her heart. By the time your babies are 6 or 7, you've had enough time to get to really know them. You've had time to know and witness the development of their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their predispositions, their tempers, their loves. They have grown intellectually to a point where reason and logic are beginning to allow them to formulate their own ideas about the world, and to react to situations in ways that border adult deductive reasoning. Having them yanked from the world at this age, is like chopping down a tree right when it begins to flower. It's like removing a too large section from an orange- disrupting its delicate and precarious balance as a whole, perfectly formed sphere. A mother's heart is like that orange. It's a delicately balanced whole. Removing too large a portion will surely endanger its precarious balance. Each of the mothers of the Newtown children had too large a portion of their hearts ripped from them when their children were killed. And my heart, some 2000 miles away, is in twisted pain just thinking about this. Because those children could just as easily have been my own.
I keep saying, "I cannot even imagine." But I can. That Friday night must have been a night from hell for those families. Only earlier that very morning, all of those children had been in their own beds. How many of them had made their beds that morning? How many of them had left their rooms in a mess- laundry on the floor, beds unmade, toys strewn about? How many of them had left things to do for that evening after they came home from school? Who would clean all of this up, and how? How were those mothers dealing with the night-time routine without their children? How were they going to bed, while their children's beds were empty? How were they trying to sleep, or weeping, or hysterical, or tranquilized? Knowing their children weren't  there. In their own warm beds. With their snuggly soft stuffed animals, or pets? Instead, they were all in body bags in a large freezer at the Medical Examiners office. All 20 of them. I am reminded of the line from Othello, "The tragic loading of this bed"... the tragic loading of that freezer.
I know more than most about State Medical Examiner's labs. I worked on the design of ours for almost two years. I learned more than you'd ever want to know about autopsies, body freezers, specimen storage, drain systems, poured epoxy floors in a light enough color to contrast blood for efficiency of cleaning. And family rooms. I had to design the two rooms in which families would come to view and/or identify the bodies of their loved ones, through a large window. My task was to make these rooms as comforting and calming as possible. All I could think about the entire time I worked on that project was, "what about children?" How can a mother sit in that room, and view her child's body through a pane of glass and not get to hold and cradle them in her arms? It haunted me and has ever since. I know that the Medical Examiner in CT didn't finish with the bodies until Sunday. I also know that none of the families was allowed to see their children until after they had been examined. Two, three days? I know, too, that each child had been hit from between 3 to 11 times with bullets. Think of how small a 6 year old is. Then think of the damage to a human body one single bullet is capable of inflicting. Then think of 11 bullets. In a 6 year old. It's hard to fathom. And it's too disturbing for anyone to contemplate. But think of the Medical Examiner. PTSD, anyone?
And what of the children who weren't at school on Friday for some reason? Doctor's appointment? Dentist? Early Holiday vacation? Sick? Or of the teacher who had just gone on maternity leave the week previous? Survivor's guilt, anyone? Or the stories that are coming out about heroism? The substitute teacher who hid her kids in cupboards and closets, and told the shooter when he came in that her kids were in the gym, only to then be shot herself? Or the Principal who went out into the hallway to secure the situation, only to be gunned down?
I am the mother of 6 year old (6 next week) twins who are in kindergarten, in different classes. Their school is very like Sandy Hook. Small, rural, close-knit community. When I dropped off the kids this morning, I encountered locked classroom doors. When we were let in, I quietly asked if this was the new policy for safety. Alex's teacher looked up at me, over his glasses in a single expression that said simultaneously, "Yes."  "Doesn't it suck?"  "I'm sorry" and "What has the world come to?" And tears instantly burst into my eyes. I thanked him. I walked out to my car, and my Architect brain took over, planning the newly secured classroom of the future:
  • Main classroom doors with automatic closers and locks, panic push bars on the classroom side for emergency exit only.
  • Secondary exits from each room, whose view is shielded both visually and physically from the primary entrance. This exit preferably goes to the outside of the building or to a protected safety corridor.
  • Panic buttons in every classroom which, when activated, set off an alarm system that immediately notifies the police, fire, paramedics, and simultaneously closes and locks all doors from the outside, activates the public address system, and sends a text or voicemail message to every parents' cell phone to be on alert and meet at a pre-designated place for further information.
  • Bullet-proof, wired safety glass at all windows and doors.
  • Escape and emergency routines and drills in all classes carried out on a regular basis.
  • Rotating parent or police patrols of school grounds.
  • Lockable cabinets in classrooms with tazers, pepper spray, emergency cell phone, emergency medical kits, etc.
It's time to start taking protecting our schools seriously.
I heard one of the detectives, a 30 plus year veteran, talking about this tragedy. He was saying that the awful truth is that right now, there is someone else out there planning something else much worse. I believe this to be true. The media coverage of Adam Lanza only helps to propagate the celebrity of his heinous acts to someone like this. There has been alot of discussion about mental illness in the past few days. About Asperghers and Autism and Explosive mental disorders, and gun control. There was a very excellent article written by Liza Long and published on the Huffington Post website, entitled "I am Adam Lanza's Mother." here's a link:
In it, she describes the explosive and dangerous temperament of her own son, suffering from similar mental disorders to Adam Lanza. She describes having to take away and lock up all the knives in her house, after her son became so violent and threatening she got seriously worried he would harm her, himself, his siblings. She describes the lack of systematic assistance and treatment other than prison for these mentally ill people. She describes being so concerned for her son's own safety as well as hers, that she seeks having him committed. I heard today, that Adam Lanza's mother was also contemplating this very thing. Which is, theoretically, what may have set him off. My question is: If she knew he was so sick and prone to explosive outbursts, or potentially dangerous, why ON EARTH did she keep guns in the same house where she and HE were residing? And why IN THE WORLD were these guns not locked up tight? It may seem pointless to speculate on why or how after the tragic events, but I also have to question the ready availability of very violent video games. I have no idea if Adam Lanza was a "gamer," but I do know that these games simulate unbelievable scenarios of gun play, violence, shooting, and carnage. It's my opinion that kids who play these games on a consistent basis become de-sensitized to the reality of this level of violence. To them, these scenes just aren't real. And when you add mental illness into this cocktail, that separation from reality can become deadly. The shooting and death and bloodshed before them, becomes something from one of their games- where they are the hero and the death around them simply isn't real. Except that it was real. I can only think that the moment before Adam Lanza aimed the gun at himself and pulled the trigger, he had some kind of momentary lucidity in which he must have realized the shock of what he'd just done WAS real and could only then take his own life. I think these games need better and more closely guarded control.
The hope, if any, I can render from this horrible tragedy, is this: that there are now 26 new angels out there watching over us. And their names are:

 - Charlotte Bacon, age 6
- Daniel Barden, age 7
 - Rachel Davino, age 39
 - Olivia Engel, age 6
 - Josephine Gay, age 7
- Ana M. Marquez-Greene, age 6
 - Dylan Hockley, age 6
 - Dawn Hochsprung, age 47
 - Madeleine F. Hsu, age 6
 - Catherine V. Hubbard, age 6
- Chase Kowalski, age 7
- Jesse Lewis, age 6
 - James Mattioli , age 6
 - Grace McDonnell, age 7
 - Anne Marie Murphy, age 52
- Emilie Parker, age 6
 - Jack Pinto, age 6
 - Noah Pozner, age 6
 - Caroline Previdi, age 6
 - Jessica Rekos, age 6
 - Avielle Richman, age 6
- Lauren Rousseau, age 40
 - Mary Sherlach, age 56
 - Victoria Soto, age 27
 - Benjamin Wheeler, age 6
- Allison N. Wyatt, age 6
And Spencer Cox, age 44

1 comment:

  1. I read the blog "I am Adam Lanza's mother" soon after the tragedy. My immediate thought was: OMG, I met "Adam Lanza's mother"! Several years ago, I teased a co-worker that her son was a unabomber-in-making. I wish I could take back every word. I can imagine the grief she must be going through, worrying that her son could be the next "Adam Lanza." I hope, now more than ever, for her sake as well as many other mothers, that our nation will now seriously debate mental healthcare before it ever comes to that.