sad angel

My heart and prayers go out to the victims, survivors, responders, and everyone involved at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  It’s a week before Christmas and this happens.  I am nostalgic this time of year, but this happens and you’re reminded that we don’t live in an age of innocence. I was shocked and horrified when I saw the news that someone shot up an elementary school.  When the news broke on the internet, I did not contact my mother.  A few hours later she sent me a text, “did you hear the news?”  I told her that I knew.

I never speak of my eldest sibling, my only brother. I was his shadow. In my eyes, he was the best big brother. I emulated his every move.  He died while we were playing at the beach on a beautiful summer day, two days after my birthday.  Aunts, uncles, and cousins were there. Kids were playing on the pier and someone accidentally pushed my brother in Lake Michigan.  He did not survive.  He was only 7 years old, the only son, and my best friend.  I remember aunts crying as the Coast Guard searched for his body.  I remember telling one aunt, “don’t worry, he promised me he’d never leave me so he’ll be okay.”

Child like faith is something powerful.  Even at the burial, I remember thinking “it’s okay he said he wouldn’t leave me.”  After his death I became withdrawn.  Had I done something wrong that my brother was taken from me?  I heard old folks say God was a jealous God.  Was God punishing me because I worshipped my brother?  It was two days after my birthday, was I unlucky?  You may think this is silly, but I was four years old when my brother died.  I felt that if I trusted or loved as hard as I loved my brother, they would be taken from me.  When my paternal grandmother died four years later, a week after my birthday, I was convinced something was wrong with me.  My mother had no idea what I suffered.  She wondered why I started wetting the bed when I had been potty trained since age 1.  She knew I was withdrawn. Every time she asked me what was wrong, I said nothing or would not confide in her. She did not know how to reach me. I was a child and none of this made sense to me. I learned early on that what you love is not always guaranteed to stay.

Back then, you did not send your child to therapy or grief counseling, you just coped.  My four year old imagination did not serve me well in coping with the loss of my brother. I recall how my brother’s death affected both my father and mother. My mom, already protective, became even the more overprotective. She did not want to go to beach that day and look what happened.  For years my mom never spoke of my brother until my first nephew was born.  I remember my mom saying: “the worse thing in the world is for a parent to bury their child.” That statement came to mind as I read the news on the internet about Sandy Hook School.  How would the victims’ parents cope at this time of the year? How would the parents of the surviving students explain to their children why what happened took place? They would face questions worse than I did as a four year old grieving the loss of her brother.

As details about the tragedy unfolded in Newtown, I was afraid how my mom would handle it.  My sister teaches kindergarten.  My youngest nephew is in kindergarten.  My mom’s next text, “we need to get him out of school now.” I told my mom to calm down. It was not happening in Chicago.  He is fine.  Her reply: “he said he did not want to go to school today and look what happened.”  I could tell the undertones of what happened to my brother were in her head – if we did not go to the beach my brother would be alive.  Fortunately and unfortunately, my youngest nephew resembles my brother.  His kindergarten school picture had my mom, sisters, and I say the same thing.  “He looks just like him.” I told my mom to call the school and make sure he’s fine.  My mom is overprotective, especially with the grand kids. They think granny is being crazy. I have to remind them about their uncle that they never met to explain to them the source of granny’s constant ‘why didn’t you tell me you made it there safe I didn’t know where you were’ rants.

Newtown reminds us that we are part of a larger family. We are touched by the tragedy that happens next door, down the street, around the corner, in another state, or the world at large.  My holiday centers around my nieces and nephews. They are my flesh and blood.  They are my babies. I cannot imagine what the parents of survivors are going through, nor can I fathom what the victims’ parents are experiencing.  I don’t think my heart can handle the vividness of that reality. God bless and comfort the residents of Newtown CT.

I told my mom to have my nieces and nephews call me when they return from school.  I want to remind them that I love them unconditionally.  I wish that I was home in Chicago now to hug them and make them feel safe or at least what I think that looks like. I sent text messages to my sisters telling them that I loved them even though we fuss and argue – I love you.  I emailed my older nephews – auntie loves you and I am proud of the young men you are becoming. I text my mom – I know I don’t say it often enough but I love you.

As we pray and send condolences to the students, teachers, administrators, and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School, please remember to kiss the ones you love, especially your children.  Remind them that even when they do things that are disappointing, that does not diminish your love for them.  Stevie Wonder’s These Three Words states it best.

 

When was the last time

That they heard you say

Mother or father, I love you

And when was the last time

That they heard you say

Daughter or son, I love you

 

Ones you say you cherish everyday

Can instantly be taken away

Then you’d say I know this can’t be true

When you never took the time

To simply tell them “i love you”

 

When was the last time

That they heard you say

Sister or brother, I love you

And when was the last time

That they heard you say

Darling or best friend, I love you

 

The one for whom you’d give your very life

Could be taken in the twinkling of an eye

Through your tears you’d ask why did you go

Knowing you’d didn’t always show

Just how much you loved them so

 

These three words

Sweet and simple

These three words

Short and kind

These three words

Always kindles

An aching heart to smile inside