Today, I mourn for those who died in Newtown, CT. I mourn for their families, friends and loved ones. I mourn for a town (and a country) devastated by the unthinkable and the lasting impact it will have on everyone.
But my sense of mourning for the survivors right now may be the strongest, as I can, unfortunately, relate to them best.
You see, even as an adult in the face of tragedy, it was hard for me to understand the torment going through my head, so how do you explain that to six- to 10-year-olds?
How do you explain survivor guilt –that constant, nagging question of, “Why did I live and my friends and teachers die?”
How do you explain that there is this thing called post-traumatic stress?
How do you explain that for days, weeks, months, perhaps years, there will be an internal movie reel playing behind their eyes?
Playing every.detail.every.sound.every.smell.every.sight every day. Every night.
And trust me, if you look carefully in their eyes, you will be able to see that there is an awful, private screening playing inside.
How do you comfort them with the fact that one of these nights, they will have a restful night of sleep? One of these nights. Eventually.
And that one day, long after the movie reels have stopped their constant spinning, they will be walking down the street and a seemingly innocuous sight, sound, or smell will inexplicably crumple them to the floor?
How do you convince them that every stranger is NOT a villain who is out to get them, and that there is still so much good in the world? Or that the smallest thing out of place, or the slightest thing that is off routine is not a sign that bad things are about to happen?
How do you explain to them that forever more, they will be labeled “Survivor” – a title that comes with immense heartbreak in just.three.syllables? Or that when someone asks them where they are from, the first question will always be, “Were you THERE on December 14?” As if THERE has some meaning other than the place they call “home”.
How do you explain that every December 14, people from around the world will reach out to them to say they are in their thoughts and prayers, rarely acknowledging that December 14, 2012 has been very much alive inside them every day of the year?
The answer is this: It cannot be explained to a six- to 10-year-old any more than it could be explained to me when I was 28.
Nor should it have to be.