Friday, January 14, 2011

Thoughts about Tucson

I’ve been so down lately. Yesterday it was so bad I actually succumbed to sleeping half the afternoon away. And that is not like me, at least not lately.

Perhaps it was because my ankle was hurting such that I could barely walk up and down the stairs – imagine me side-stepping my way up and down? And I’m the one who never ever complains about aches and pains.

Well this morning the ankle is better. I forced it to be better by working it out at the gym. I think the vibrating power plate helped.

But my mood isn’t better. And when I looked at the lead photo in today’s LA Times I realized why. It’s that tragic shooting in Tucson last Saturday. Today was the first funeral for the victims – the young girl, nine-year old Christina Green. It breaks my heart. I cry when I think about her and how much her family is grieving. I know what it is like to grieve for a dead child, so I am grieving with them. I cry with them. Every time I think of her death, I start crying.

I’m also grieving with the parents of the young shooter. I don’t know anything about them and whether or not they knew something was very wrong with their son and if they did, whether they ever tried to help him. I know the father drove after him that morning when he saw him leave with a big black bag. He must have had some feeling that something was up.

I had bad feelings about my son in the last few days of his life. I felt that he was in danger, but he wasn’t violent against others. He was only violent against himself. And when I spoke with him the night before he took his life, he looked good, calm, and he was very sweet with me. So I felt a little better that night. It turns out that was the last time I ever saw him – either dead or alive.

I also know that if the shooter’s parents tried to get him help, they would have had a hard time of it. My son who was mentally ill was a master of talking himself out of being locked away in a mental hospital. We called the police several times but Paul could make himself look like there was nothing wrong with him. So how could the police justify taking a guy who didn’t look like he was a danger to himself or others in?  It was so frustrating. We knew he needed help, we called for it, and our son knew how to get out of it every time. He only went into the hospital on his own terms. So I suspect the shooter’s parents might have had the same experience as my husband and I in trying to get their son help.

And now they have to live with the fact that their only child, a 22-year old young man – killed six people and wounded many others. They will have to live with the guilt and the grief and the remorse the rest of their lives. I don’t know how they can.

After my son died I didn’t think I could continue to live. But I have. And right now, today, I know it could have been worse. I don’t have to live with the effects of the harm he did to others, only the harm he did to himself and the emotional harm he did to his family and friends. That’s bad enough. It’s just not as bad as what those Tucson parents have to live with. At least not in my mind.


Barb said...

Nationally, Madeline, our collective hearts are broken. To lose a child - whether it is a random act or by his own hand is the greatest tragedy - I cannot imagine your grief and the grief of the Tucson parents (the shooter's included). Hugs to you - your stone today was very moving.

Janice Phelps Williams said...

I have thought about you and Paul this week, and also about my client and friend Jennifer Herbstritt, author of "Leaving Virginia" whose brother, Jeremy was killed at VA Tech. Through her book and yours I have learned much about what families experience in regards to grief, as well as anger and frustration and depression. I know that you did everything you could for your son, everything possible at the time; but I suppose it is instinctual to feel inside that "if only I had done more." Unfortunately the systems are not in place to properly support parents like you who try to get help for their adult children, let alone those parents who are less able or willing to advocate.

I, too, have felt very sad this week thinking of this nine-year-old child, this 9/11 baby, this "Child of Hope." Today, I began reading "After the Darkest Hour: How Suffering Begins the Journey to Wisdom" by Kathleen A. Brehony, Ph.D. I am finding it interesting and helpful, as she examines what characteristics in a person make them able to use suffering to create a "new normal" and why others never are able to rebuild their life after tragedy. It is something I have always wondered, and she explores this subject indepth.

Well, in any case, I think we should allow ourselves a morning in bed, a time of sorrow...after all, isn't that what we want from others, at least, when our loved one dies? Don't we have trouble understanding how everything else just keeps going on? How we wish others would show some acknowledgment of this world's tremendous loss. Much was lost when this child died last Saturday. I know (from reading your book) that your Paul was nothing like what they are describing this murderer was like...there are many faces of mental illness. But somewhere our systems failed this child and failed this person who killed her and it is hard to feel hopeful. But we must. Because change is possible. Who can know, Madeline, who will be touched by your book and whose life it might even save, the life of a child or the life of a parent who is experiencing profound loss. I'm sorry this is such a long comment, but as I said, I've been thinking of you, and Jennifer Herbstritt, all week.