To the Invisible Parents of Today’s Victims

To all directly affected by today's horrific events, our hearts go out to you.

Today is a very bad day. There has been another school shooting in America, and at the time of writing seventeen are dead and three are in critical condition.

It’s a very bad day because the tragedy is incomprehensible. And it is made more so because the frequency of such shootings somehow suggests they’re acceptable: in the seven weeks since the start of 2018, this is the eighth school shooting to have resulted in death or injury*. So today, within millions and millions of Americans grief converts to rage that our government won’t value one’s right to life at least as much as one’s right to carry a gun.

And for me, this tragedy at a high school takes on yet another angle.

I have become completely alienated from two high school children. Parental alienation behaviors permeated our lives for over a decade, and still I thought we’d make it: despite it all, our bond was strong and our life together was real. That is, until last summer, when they stopped coming home. Or returning my messages. Or even looking at me at school functions.

So I wonder: If my kids were in a shooting, would the clarity of that moment strip off the lie they’re living? Would they wish I were there? Hope for a chance to reconnect? Or would they hate any thought of me as a weakness they must overcome? Or even blame me somehow, as they’ve been conditioned to do?

Then I get angry. The way I did when my father almost died. Or when thousands of people took on a life-and-death fight with hurricanes. Or when I speak to former foster kids, or to those adopted out of horrendous circumstances. Or when one of my kids gets injured. And every time there is a shooting.

I get so angry that I want to scream at their mother, “Isn’t life hard enough as it is? Doesn’t it already dish up insurmountable challenges without a warning? Isn’t it entitled, and cruel, and… delusional to fabricate more?”

By all measures, my kids are blessed, and should be growing up loved, whole, and ready to take on the world that’s their oyster. And yet simply because my existence is no longer convenient to their mother, they have trauma from abandonment, betrayal, possibly even abuse. Those are not real, but my children’s emotions – and trauma – will be very real. Why?!

And then I wonder: if my kids were in a shooting, would I be finding out from the news? Would their mother reply whether they are ok, or would I be blindly darting from hospital to hospital? Would I second-guess stepping into their hospital room? Well of course! – But since the other family is surely there, will that just make a horrific day more stressful for the kids?

Statistically, some of the kids in that high school would have had alienated parents. They are not in reunion photos; neither are they in grieving photos: out of habit, they’d be the ones containing their pain outside the frame. Teachers may have never met them and shamed them for daring to ask around. Medics may have dismissed them. Journalists didn’t even see them. Invisible parents grieving the loss of their babies – possibly for years before a teenage shooter picked up the gun.

And to those parents, I want to say, I am so deeply sorry. This deletion, this erasing of you, this dismissal of both love and grief, it is a grave injustice. Nothing I can say or do will make it better, but what I can do is acknowledge that you are there.

* How Many School Shootings Have Their Been in 2018 So Far? The Guardian. February 14, 2018.

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