The ripple effects of the Aurora shooting: Parenting a grieving child
August 17, 2012 | 1:00 pm
(Updated: February 25, 2013 | 12:48 pm)
Endless calls came in on my daughters’ phone after the Century 21 theater shooting in Aurora last month: friends telling her that one of her classmates’ mother was a victim. Since some of the same “friends” played a similar joke on her a few months ago, I didn’t believe them and encouraged my daughter not to believe them as well. I made her turn off the phone. I reassured her that it was just a rumor and that I would find out the truth.
Diligently following the news to provide some type of comfort to my daughter, I watched as the names of the victims began to arrive. Two, then three, six, then 11 deceased, with one still awaiting release to make 12. My daughter’s friend’s mother was on that list.
I reread the names over and over, deliberately ignoring the obvious name that I was looking for because I didn’t want to believe my eyes. I took a deep breath, trying to figure out how to break the news to my nine year old daughter.
There is no right way to break bad news.
With my mind and body going into fight-or-flight mode, I chose to stay and fight. I fought to find the words to break such upsetting news to a nine year old girl that is the “mother hen” in her class, who cries when others cry just because she cares, who is very smart for her age and understands more than a nine year old should, but is still a fragile child. What do I say? I had her sit next to me on the couch and I told her the truth. That her classmates’ mother was a victim in the shooting.
Her big, brown, almond eyes looked up at me and I could see the hurt, the pain, the confusion, all the questions that she wanted to ask, marching across every wrinkle in her brow. I stared back at her in reassurance that I was there and that it was OK to cry. The tears began to flow non stop soaking every part of my shirt. She began to scream and cry uncontrollably and call my name. I just held her.
Grieving is a process not even a parent can “fix.”
With a desire to take her pain away I soon found myself flustered and frustrated because I couldn’t soothe what was hurting her. How do I support my nine year old as she grieves? How do I support myself?
I found that at times, my presence was enough to provide comfort. Not all comfort has to be in the form or words, but a gentle touch or a soft smile can make a big difference.
I didn’t have all the answers, nor did I try to find all the answers. Instead of dwelling on the how and the why, I refocused her attention on the fact that she was no longer with us and for us to celebrate her life by talking about what we remembered about her.
I didn’t try to hide how I was affected by this senseless loss. I cried in front of my daughter and I cried with my daughter. I also found some alone time so that I could process all of this and sit with my feelings.
They say time heals all wounds and as the healing process continues, I find myself hugging my children a little tighter and a little longer. Ultimately, accepting that grieving in a process that not even a parent can “fix.”
Rest in peace, Rebecca Wingo.