It was mid-fall in Colorado and my family joined other church families for a Saturday cookout at the local park.
In those days it seemed like every family had four children; as I remember the scene was Norman Rockwell-worthy replete with football throwing, joyous running through piles of dried, colorful leaves flavored wood smoke and sizzling hot dogs.
I saw them first. A couple walked toward us, poorly dressed and unkempt. The woman carried a baby bundled in a blanket, pink as I recall. The man seemed hesitant.
I mentioned to my mom that maybe they were new to our church and didn’t know anyone. As always, my mother Bettye (for whom there were no strangers) walked toward them; she looked at the baby, I saw the couple brighten and they joined us at one of the wooden picnic tables.
I would later learn that they were transients out of work, down on their luck and in need of help. They picked the right group to approach because by the end of day the church men had the man a job in the oil field; my mom found them a small house owned by someone willing to wait for the rent once the young man got his first pay check.
Late Sunday afternoon I answered the door to see the same couple standing on the porch. The woman was crying and the man asked of they could see my mom.
I remember being unnerved as the woman moaned and cried and the husband explained that the baby in the pink blanket had died in the night. It was hard to understand how a baby died, in my short life the event seemed limited to grandparents and famous people who got old.
I took my brother and two sisters outside to play. The couple’s car, an old Mercury, was parked at the curb. I walked over, looked in the back seat and there was the pink bundle. I stayed by the car until the couple and my Mom came outside; I didn’t think the baby should be alone.
A couple of days later the funeral service was held in our church; the tiny white casket draped in the pink, fluffy blanket my mom washed.
It was so heartbreakingly small and it struck me as so very wrong, out of order… a baby, an infant.
I see it to this day and hear the woman sobbing.
The image has come back frequently the last few days, especially with the first Sandy Hook funerals as an entire community, a nation mourns the loss of innocents.
As a psychotherapist and critical incident specialist who worked the aftermath of Columbine and other murders and mass casualty shootings, I often struggled emotionally with my rage and the need to remain professional midst the carnage, the pain and the bottomless grief by which I was often surrounded.
It has been so since Friday. First rage and anger and a physical need to do something…. when there is nothing to do. So I write my rage and people wonder why I don’t just get in line with everyone at the candle-light vigils and talk about “letting the healing begin.”
That’s not the way it works, people don’t “heal” two days after they pick out a tiny casket; in many ways they never heal…. the loss, the pain is too crushing to dark and will be with them until they too pass from this life.
Yet time and time again I saw parents and families struggle, cope and eventually learn to benefit from their grief and somehow go on.
I never failed to be moved and reassured by such courage.
For myself, someone who has no children, I work hard with the rage I feel at the murder of children; I want retribution but only in my dreams when I am the willing instrument of that retribution do I feel relief.
Sadly the Sandy Hook child killer did not wait for police gunfire and thus cheated us of our retribution. But it is probably just as well because this society seldom punishes in kind, let alone metes out swift retribution.
So I am not much for the candlelight vigils we have become so good at following national tragedies, the scripted speeches, the politicians elbowing each other out of the way for a piece of the spotlight…. and then, back to business.
Such ceremonies and funerals are necessary for the families and friends and perhaps the local community, but what about next time? And there will be a next time because we refuse to demand retribution and have become incapable of finding the will to end murder of the innocent, the small and helpless, because we do not care, we do not really care.
If we did care there would be no school shootings.
“Signing” a Facebook sympathy card is not caring. It’s just easy.
We have the means to end school shooting and thereby honor the dead, and at the same time provide something real and meaningful for the grieving and the survivors.
It is simply this: shoot the gunman dead immediately upon being identified, preferably in the parking lot.
One funeral, not 28. It’s what we did to bin Laden why won’t we do it for 20 babies in tiny coffins?
When we do, then I’ll let the “healing” begin….. and not a moment before.