Losing a child is an experience that alters your life forever. Parents never get over it. I know this firsthand.
Last Wednesday, 17 students lost their lives in Parkland, Florida. The grief and loss that follows parents burying their adult child brings with it shock, and a host of other powerful emotions. The only solace they might feel in the days, weeks, months (and beyond) often comes from the kind and empathetic people that come alongside them and share in their loss.
When a tragedy has a public component, then this means the media comes calling. Parents, along with fellow classmates, will be asked an incessant line of questions—some of them invasive and even, just plain heartless and worse—stupid.
My son wasn’t gunned down with an assault rifle, but when the car impacted his body along U.S. 90 in Crestview, Florida, killing him immediately, he was just as dead. My wife and I have been picking up the pieces of our lives ever since—we’ve now passed the one-year anniversary, and continue counting.
I’m not going to say I know exactly what the parents of the 17 classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are feeling today and have been for a week. I will say I have a sense about what the pain feels like—for me, it felt like my heart was ripped from my chest.
When a son or daughter is murdered like their children were, and the media turns it into a circus primarily to enhance ratings (and sell advertising), anger is never too far away. In my case, I ended up telling a writer from a major newspaper to “fuck off” when all she cared about was including Mark in her story about people crossing America who had been killed after being hit by a vehicle. She was heartless.
I have been amazed by the strength and resolve of students like Emma Gonzalez and Cameron Kasky, some of the more prominent classmates (among many), in speaking out forcefully in the aftermath of the mass shooting at their school. Not sure if the adults plan to follow their lead.Rachel Catania, 15, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland said she got a lot of non-answers from the politicians she spoke with Tuesday.
“I know it’s going to be hard, but I know we can do it,” she said. “We’re not going to be the school that got shot, we’re going to be the school that got shot and made something happen. A change is going to happen.”
Then there are those, like Bill O’Reilly, a major media figure who is obviously short on the empathy side of things, offering counsel and a critique of a media that he did his darned-well-best to run into the ditch.
Apparently now is not the time to interview students and let them have a say because “Mr. Empathy,” O’Reilly, questioned whether or not the media should be promoting “opinions by teenagers who are in an emotional state and facing extreme peer pressure in some cases?”Yes they should, Bill. You know why? Because what they have to offer is authentic and not scripted like the talking points you trotted out for years on your program from ideological hacks that you curried favor with, most of them politicians.
Lastly, the main issue isn’t culture or mental illness. Listen to the students. The issue is guns.
Here’s some advice: if you’ve never lost a child suddenly and tragically and are like most—incapable of providing anything approximating empathy—then it’s all-too-easy to offer up Monday morning quarterbacking that’s wrong, useless, but extremely hurtful to those who are grieving and those who know something about grief and loss. How about just shutting up and letting those that know something (because they’ve earned that right through experience), speak.