Broken Heart

My heart is broken. When I first heard the news, I had to suppress the torrent of tears so that my sons wouldn’t inquire. I couldn’t let them know. Given that we homeschool, it’s likely that they’ll never know. If the adults around me (including myself) can hardly process the event, there’s no way that my son could make sense of it. It would lead to years of nightmares and fears that would appear in the darkness while falling asleep at night. It could only show up as anxiety, as it’s too much for my young, highly sensitive son to assimilate in a healthy way. We choose to protect him because we can.

At dinner that night, my husband and I looked at each other knowingly across the table. Our eyes spoke what our mouths couldn’t say, the questions that seared through our hearts alongside the grief: “How could this happen? Those parents… how will they survive their loss? What’s wrong with our world? What can we do?

After dinner, I felt irritated with my older son. His every word and move were grating on me until I realized that the irritation was a protection against the heartache, the fear, the vulnerability of loving him so deeply that if something happened to him a part of me would die. As soon as I made the connection, I looked at him with pure tenderness, held his face in my hands, and, with tears in my eyes said, “I love you infinity.” I still had to hold back the tears, and I could feel them building force behind my eyes.

As soon as both boys fell asleep and I had a chance to read more about what had happened, the dam broke loose. My body shook with heartbreak like it hasn’t shaken in a long time. Senseless, horrific, unimaginable, terrifying, devastating. Why? How? Those children. Those teachers. Those parents. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. I don’t know how you will survive, but somehow you will. This shouldn’t ever happen. Ever. I’m so sorry.

In the days that followed, I looked to my spiritual mentors for guidance and answers. There is great wisdom in the world, and I’m grateful to have access to wise and compassionate words that travel over the virtual airways, but the problem seems bigger than anyone can contemplate and I found myself shutting my computer feeling unsatisfied. I spent hours talking to my closest friends about what happened, trying to piece together a semblance of a hypothesis about what needs to change. My wise friend, Lisa, said, “It’s a call for attention. It’s a lost, enraged, scared, unbearably devastated and hopeless person who doesn’t feel seen and is screaming out for attention and feelings of importance, even if that attention and sense of importance is obtained for unspeakable reasons and posthumously. This person is not separate from any of us.  This person has sprouted from the seeds of the ills of our culture which lacks a sense of meaning, honoring, and importance of place and purpose within the whole.”  She sends me a link to this article by Laurie A. Couture which says, among other things:

“At the heart of every act of violence is child trauma. At the heart of violence so extreme, such as taking the lives of innocent children, there are deep, chronic unmet needs….there is a disruption that could find no relief anywhere else in life’s offerings. To discuss these issues is not to make speculation about the family, or to in any way condone violence. Many people are fearful that empathic understanding of violent people negates responsibility or condones actions. Empathy does no such thing. Empathy in these situations allows us to stop, connect to the humanity and suffering in people, and to realize that crucial and immediate paradigm shifts are in order in our culture’s way of parenting and educating children in order to prevent future tragedies.”

We talked about lack of community and attachment villages and also about nutritional deficits, and she sent me an article by Adrie at Fields and Fire who says,

“Mental illness and behavioral disorders are hugely affected by diet – give lab rats a diet based mostly on refined carbohydrates (like white flour and white potatoes) and sugar/corn syrup, and they literally go insane. People do, too.”

In my desperate need to make sense of this, I reached out to one of my spiritual mentors, Chris Mercogliano, author of my all-time favorite book on parenting and education, In Defense of Childhood. He wrote back immediately with piercingly insightful comments, as well as an article that he wrote after Columbine about the social hierarchies in schools that lead to devastating plummets in self-worth. This topic has received attention in the news lately, and while it certainly isn’t the whole picture or the singular answer, it does provide a piece of the puzzle that I believe deserves serious attention. For the full article, click here. He also quoted a wise young woman who points out the responsibility of parents to show up more attentively with their kids. Chris asks:

WHAT ARE THE TEACHINGS of this tragedy? I ask the question because if we can learn enough from this one to prevent yet another, then those young people will not have died in vain. Consider the words of Marcy Musgrave, from a column she wrote for the May 2 edition of the Dallas Morning News. A junior at Texas A&M University, she proposes that her yet-to-be-named generation, which follows Generation X, be called Generation Why. Here is her explanation:

“After the massacre in Littleton, I realized that as a member of this generation that kills without remorse, I had a duty to challenge all of my elders to explain why they have allowed things to become so bad. Why did most of you lie when you made the vow of ‘til death do us part? Why did you fall victim to the notion that kids are just as well-off being raised by total strangers at a day care center than by their own mothers or fathers? Why is work more important than your own family? Why does the television do most of the talking at family meals? Why is money regarded as more important than relationships? Why is ‘quality time’ generally no longer than a five- to 10-minute conversation each day? Why do you try to make up for the lack of time you spend with us by giving us more and more material objects that we really don’t need? Why haven’t you lived moral lives that we could model our own after? Why do you allow us to spend unlimited amounts of time on the Internet but still are shocked about our knowledge of how to build bombs? Why are you so afraid to tell us ‘No’ sometimes? Why is it so hard for you to realize that school shootings, and other violent juvenile behavior, result from a lack of your attention more than anything else?

Rude awakenings like the Columbine massacre probably will continue until you begin to answer our questions and make the changes to put us, your kids, first. You might not think we are worth it, but I guarantee that Columbine will look like a drop in the bucket when a neglected Generation Why comes to power.”

I derive solace from Trent Gilliss at OnBeing.org, who shares this passage from the Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh:

“What we see, what we hear, what we eat, always water the seed of violence, the seed of despair, the seed of hate in us and in our children. That is why it’s very urgent to do something collectively in order to change the situation. Not only educators, but parents, legislators, artists, have to come together in order to discuss the strategy that can help bring the kind of safe environment to us and to our children where we shall be protected from the negative watering of the seeds in us. The practice of transformation and healing could not be effective without this practice of seeking or creating a sane environment. When someone is sick, you have to bring him to a place where he or she can be treated and to heal.

“If the human person is affected by the poison of violence and anger and despair, if you want to help heal him or her, you have to bring him or her out of the situation where she continues to ingest the poisons of violence. This is very simple. This is very clear and this is not only the job of educators. Everyone has to participate to the work of creating safe environments for us and for our children.

“…there is a seed of anger in every one of us. There are many kinds of seeds that lie deep in our consciousness, a seed of anger, a seed of violence, a seed of fear, a seed of jealousy, a seed of full despair, a seed of miscommunication, a seed of hate. They’re all there and, when they sleep, we are okay. But if someone come and water these seeds, they will manifest into energy and they will make us suffer. We also have wholesome seeds in us, namely the seeds of understanding, of awakening, of compassion, of nonviolence, of nondiscrimination, a seed of joy and forgiveness. They are also there.”

Right now I have no concrete answers, only a heart broken into a thousand pieces. We can – and must – hypothesize about the myriad reasons that conspire to create such rage, self-loathing, and mental illness, but they’re only theories, ideas, attempts to concretize the amorphous realm of soul-searing grief. We need answers. We need solutions. But I’m not there yet. I can only send out a prayer for a world that needs attention on many levels: May our paradigms of parenting, eduction, nutrition, and our isolating living situations be revolutionized from the ground up. May we learn how to attend lovingly to our babies and children so that they grow into healthy, purposeful, whole adults. May we find peace. Dear God, please help us help our wounded world. Please show us the way.

20 comments to Broken Heart

  • amore

    Beautiful Sheryl, I too am feeling so much pain but yet, I can’t cry! It’s unreal… I want to but I can’t. Any insight? As a teacher, a future school psychologist, I am devastated, scared, and speechless all at the same time…

  • Ali

    Sheryl,

    I love your words, your search, your findings. I utterly agree that soul searching is required, and can lead to change too. But this question burns in me each time I read blogs on this topic, do you only look at the internal reasons, not the external ones? If this kid had not had easy access to lethal weapons, he could not have done this. Period.

    Why are so many fine, clever women bloggers searching their souls to understand, but not also addressing the big one: dangerous weapons do terrible damage: limit the weapons, you limit the problem. You cannot eliminate, but you can limit. Easy access to assault weapons is a huge part of this. If we only debate with our souls, we are missing a big part of what can be changed… what must be changed.

    We, outside of the USA, are appalled with American massacres hitting the news over and over and yet we see no outrage in the American people regarding the easy access to weapons designed to kill. Why this logic gap? Why are the brilliant mummy bloggers not demanding change so this sort of thing stops?

    I hope I have phrased this well. This is not a critique against you or the writing (in fact, I adore your writing, and have for a long time). But it is a burning question that I believe must be asked (ok – maybe not of you, and again, I in no way mean to offend – only to provoke a new type of questioning, and I hope, change for the better.)

    My best wishes
    Alison

    • Alison,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comment. The primary conversations here in the U.S. about this incident have been about gun control and mental access, and I’m confident that the policy makers will enact laws that we need to see in both of those areas. My husband and I – and everyone I know – have signed petitions about gun control, and there is no shortage of dialogue in this area. However, the underlying causes need to be addressed as well if we’re going to see real change in this country (and world). I don’t have much hope that people will start to make these changes any time soon as we hold our education system and addictive foods as sacred cows, but I felt the need to at least start the conversation rolling here. I do believe that there’s a shift of consciousness happening on the planet and that the more we have these difficult conversations, the more likely it is that the higher consciousness will take root and spread.

    • Lisa

      Hello, Alison,

      Here is a link to an article that passionately explores the burning and important question you pose:

      http://www.thewednesdaychef.com/the_wednesday_chef/2012/12/the-shootings.html.

      And thank you, Sheryl, for exploring the deep, underlying causes of this and other horrific tragedies from so many angles and with such openness to dialogue.

      with Gratitude and Prayers,
      Lisa

  • Sarah

    I wondered if you would blog about this, and must say I’m glad you did. Your thoughts are much more refreshing and raw than much of what’s circulating right now. I’ve been irritable when online (or connected to media of any kind really) because all we are really hearing is arguments about gun control. The fact of the matter though, is that this crime was committed by a person. Not some inhuman monster, but a flesh and blood person who clearly had some deep problems and hurt. I think you’re right that answers and solutions are needed, and equally right that it’s ok to not be quite “there” yet. It seems to me that arguing over whether or not to permit guns just points to a human need to control situations like this. Would taking guns away prevent things like this? Maybe…maybe hurting and damaged people would find another way to damage others. But it’s much easier to rail against (or for) guns, then it is to sit with grief and unanswered questions, and worse…the fear that something out of our realm of control could happen to the young people that are so precious in our own lives. That’s big, and has no easy answer, no law that can neatly tie up and solve the problem. Thanks for your thoughts, and the compassion and empathy that flows from them.

    • Thank you, Sarah. I didn’t want to write it, but eventually knew that I needed to. It came from an open-hearted moment following a difficult interaction with my son (difficult because of my own reactivity), and the words flowed from there.

  • Lynn

    I have read that Adam may have had Asperger’s and there may have been some kind of disconnect with his ability to feel both physically and emotionally. It sounds like from what has been reported that his mom was devoted to him. It is hard for any of us to say what her daily issues were as a single mom with this child. If this child was not able to recieve the loving attention she wanted to provide….how heartbreaking is that as mother? There are many mothers out there trying to do there best to deal with these kinds of situations and also deal with mental illness in their children. (I do wonder what the heck she was thinking teaching her son to shoot guns though!)I think it is important for us as a society to address how we are to proceed with the support and care of these members of our society. I think we also must address the violence that so permeates our culture from the lack of gun control to the allowance of video games and media that are entraining the brains of young impressionable minds. In the hands of those whose emotional bodies have been numbed through trauma, methamphedimine use and those that just come into the world with physiological imbalance we need to have a studied, compassionate and collective look at how we are to help these individuals. Yes, it does take a village and many in our culture feel isolated, alone and our system does not yet have the safety nets in place to assist them. Those of us that have been fortunate enough to have received enough love, health and guidance and resources in the world to be able to see the overview can join together and begin to create a matrix of loving energy and from that create the thought forms, then the new structures that will assist with the healing. We unfortuntely have been the frog who has been slowly cooked to boiling point. These changes have slowly occured over a period of time and we have all been living these changes. If we would have been dropped into our culture suddenly fast forward 1970 to 2012….? These events are shocking….they should be. Your forum here is beautiful…..it is about feeling the truth of what we are living. Not moving away from it. Let our tears move us to meaningful action. Thank you for being the sensitives that you are!

  • Ashley

    I too am heartbroken. I cry out in grief over those babies and for all the kids, the teens, the twenty-somethings trying to make sense of this world. We lack a community in which they can feel all of their feelings and not be judged for them. We lack a safe space where we as adults tell them that they are enough; they are beautiful; they are wanted. I feel incredibly powerless. All I can do is breath into the grief and breath out prayers of love. We need change, but as you say, I too don’t have the answers yet. From your teachings Sheryl I know that somehow, if moved through consciously, we will find light to this incredible darkness.

  • sahmpaw

    I was just reading about people with aspergers and autism having violent tendencies fom Dr. Ben Lynch who is an expert on mthfr and methylation challenges. He has seen clients who are extremely violent but when their physiological deficiencies are corrected they get well. I was recently diagnosed with mthfr after years of depression and anger. People who have this cannot make neurotransmitters at the proper level. This defect was discovered in the human genome project and it will take years before conventional medicine will catch on. If this person had aspergers the biological part is a huge piece to the puzzle. But this is what I want to post on facebook. “If you see that someone in your life is not well (and that is the terminology used by relatives) or may be suicdal, show them god’s grace – show them love, compassion, get them help, talk to their parent. Who cares if you embarass that person or piss someone off. Just
    by getting involved you are showing that person that they are worthwhile. You may plant a seed. You may change a life. You might save some lives. We have to be the
    angels on this planet.” Oh and absolutely the guns have got to go! If all this person had access to was a knife this would be a very different story. I’m so sorry for those parents that they will never hold their babies again.

  • RTP

    Thanks for sharing your insights Sheryl and as always your articles are raw and speak to the real issues.

    Living outside of America has to some extent shielded us from the horrors of what actually occurred and if i’m being honest with myself i find myself somewhat numb to what seem to me to be regular such occurrings. I feel a real sickness and anger inside of me that this has been allowed to happen again and the only thing i can do from here is numb myself to it. Yes as human beings the only vehicle available to us is to make changes and to me changing the gun laws is the low hanging fruit. Yes it won’t solve all the problems but going by statistics related to gun control it is a great start. Other questions that circle my mind include:
    – what is at the heart of this paranoia that people think that they need to have access to such weapons
    – if we are all living in fear of our neighbours no wonder we can’t see the pain that people are in…how can we connect when we live in such fear
    – And the other question is what is the significance of schools…why schools … schools should be like churches..sacred..where children and families are bought together to not just educate but to restore communities with a common goal to provide a safe environment where childrens natural talents can flourish…we measure schools by grades that children achieve but never by the love and the support that they feel. What is it about schools that are a source of such pain and what can we do about it.

    Sorry if i seem unsympathetic…that is not the case at all…It just breaks my heart that nothing gets done and each time we are witness to something so much more tragic than i could ever have fathomed. My heart weeps for these little ones who I believe have laid their lives on the line to show us the utter travisty that is the current state of our society.

  • RPeli

    I dont know if anyone has seen this article, which was reprinted on an australian website:

    http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/i-am-adam-lanzas-mother/

    another heartbreakingly raw and honest perspective about this terrible tragedy.

    Its confronting to read, but so important we start being real about the fact that as someone else said earlier, the people committing these violent acts are flesh and blood human beings. We need to address how this can happen!

    • Lovebug

      While that article offers insight into what it’s like to parent a child with a mental illness, what it also does is assume that the shooter dealt with the same or similar issues. We don’t know that, and may never know that. I think the first quote in Sheryl’s article is so profound in that it considers the affects of childhood trauma. I think it’s just a complicated, horrific situation that’s so hard to wrap our heads around and it’s easy to create stories to help us understand or make sense of it.

    • I agree, Lovebug. I’ve read the article as well and it made me feel quite sad for many reasons. It assumes that the only way to deal with mental illness is to use power-over forms of discipline. It’s a heartbreaking story, and I know one that many share, but for me it still points to a much larger conversation about the factors that intersect to grow these children (so often boys) who are struggling to be seen, heard, and valued.

      • sarah

        I agree, Sheryl. When I first learned about what happened, after our session, I couldn’t even believe it. My WS was saying all sorts of things to keep me from feeling, and when I was able to drop down I felt angry. And below that was helplessness and a deep sadness. For the kids, the parents, everyone involved. People kept saying they didn’t want to hear about who this person was who did this, that it was about the victims. And while that’s true, maybe I resonated with some deep longing to be seen, known, loved. On some level I felt like I wanted to know him. It’s stirred up a lot in me that in ways I don’t understand.

  • Marybeth

    Thanks for posting all of this great collective insight–
    My first thought with all of this was the anguish and heartbreak these parents must be feeling.
    As a parent now, I can’t even go there too deep b/c I almost can’t breathe at the thought of their pain.
    As an attachment parent, my thoughts are so in line with everything posted above:
    This is about a child with very deep issues, including the challenge of Asperger’s, but behind every child
    there is a parent with a responsibility to meet the child’s needs as best as they can.
    This greatly includes addressing our own weaknesses and dysfunctions from our own upbringing so that we can love well, provide and nurture well and not repeat the dysfunction.
    I am sure his mother had a ballgame on her hands over the years from trauma of divorce, single momhood, a child w/ Asperger’s…
    But I do think there is a responsibility on the behalf of the parents.
    People kept posting on FB about ‘how evil’, etc.
    These kids are not ‘evil’–they are so deeply wounded and, as you mention above, screaming for attention, to be heard.
    We have a resposibility to make sure we are hearing our children so they feel connected.
    This takes attentive parenting–exhausting, time-investing and roll-your-sleeves up parenting.
    But our society is going 100mph and money is more impt than relationships too often, so here we are.
    So awful a story, but hopefully will bring light to the importance of good parenting and mental health awareness.
    Gun control has to be addressed as well.
    And the violent video games–these do not help in anyone’s hands, much less someone struggling so deeply.
    Prayers to Sandy Hook and all those affected by the ripple effect of this.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping the coping process for all of us.

  • MEG

    I tried for many days not to hear about this horrific tragedy. As an elementary teacher, I feel like this event hits home and triggers a lot of worry and anxiety in the people I work with and especially the children I teach (myslf included). Sheryl, your article allowed me to feel the grief, to cry, and send my love and prayers to those affected without having to know the details of what happened… Thank you for that.
    My mind has so many questions about why someone could do such a thing. How could you look an innocent child in the eyes and do such a horrible thing? Did these children and teachers die in fear or were they at least comforted by someone close by? My thoughts and prayers are with the families, as I cannot imagine not being able to feel what they are going through… Not being able to tell your child you love them one last time. I cannot imagine.
    More questions that plague me is from the fear part of me that wonders how a person can let their ill mind control them to that extent. As a sufferer of intrusive thoughts and anxiety, one of my fears is “going insane”… And with something as tragic as this, I wonder why there weren’t people there to help this man from getting to that point. It’s a scary thing that someone can go so far off the deep end like that.

    What I’ve learned from this, selfishly, is that nothing in this world matters but the people you love. This event has grounded me in what’s truly important in life. Although it feels so real and difficult at times, I feel like after such a tragedy my engagement anxiety is quite ridiculous. I have just one life, that could end at any moment. Why would it be spent living in fear and unhappiness? To honor those who have lost their lives I am going to promise to live my life with nothing but love and compassion. I will appreciate others and myself more, and frequently tell others and myself how much I love them. I wish everyone a loving holiday… May it be spent with loved ones, hugs, and laughter.

    • Beautiful, Meg. Thank you. Sometimes it takes tragic events to put our lives into perspective and “seize the day.” And I’m glad you’ve allowed yourself to grieve. It’s an important piece of the puzzle on many levels.

  • MEG

    There’s an excellent Dharma Talk on the tragedy that I think is worth listening to. If you go to Dharmaseed.com, it’s the most recent talk by James Baraz. Hope this helps.

  • Erin

    “I felt irritated with my older son. His every word and move were grating on me until I realized that the irritation was a protection against the heartache, the fear, the vulnerability of loving him so deeply that if something happened to him a part of me would die.”

    This line resonated with me in a huge way. I felt myself getting extremely irritated with the people I love most (I do not have children, so it came out to my husband and best friend) and I was struggling to figure out why.

    This tragedy doesn’t make sense. And I’ve had to stop watching and learning about it because it just creates a hole in my heart that aches.