On Saying it Never Happened; Can we get some sensitivity up in here?

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Not long ago I wrote a story about the day I met the father of a child who was killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook. The day it posted I sat reading a few comments people posted and feeling confusion over what I saw. “I don’t get this. I’m not sure what the problem is,” I told my husband. He looked at the comments before turning to me and saying, “Honey, you need to understand that this is a rather controversial topic. There are a lot of people who don’t believe the shootings in Sandy Hook actually happened.” I stared at him for a moment, speechless. Of course I know that there are conspiracy theories about everything. I assumed people may question the reason the shooting happened, but it hadn’t dawned on me that people would actually believe that nothing happened at all. I must admit it didn’t really cross my mind because the idea of telling a person that their child didn’t really die, or never even exist in the first place is something I can’t wrap my head around.

The reason I’d written the article to begin with was because I admired the man I’d met and his wife. They’d lost a child and somehow survived. Not only had they survived, they’d stayed together, and began to build their family again. I know I can’t fully imagine the pain of losing a child. I can imagine how I would probably feel, but I know I couldn’t fully understand the degree of pain that comes with the actual loss.  My daughter is my life.  She’s the one I love most in this world. To lose her would be to lose my whole heart. I think the one thing that would make me feel worse than losing her would be to have someone tell me afterwards that I’d lied about it, claiming it didn’t happen. I feel that to say it never happened is to completely invalidate the life of someone who was very much loved. Say you don’t believe why it happened, or even, how it happened, but don’t do those suffering the injustice of saying their loved one never existed at all.

One person sarcastically called my work, “A thoughtful piece of propaganda,” while another told me to look deeper, “things aren’t what they appear or what the media wants you to believe”. I was surprised at the commentary following my piece, because in a way I felt that the point was missed. I wasn’t making a comment about gun laws; I was making a comment about perseverance in the face of great loss. However, it was obvious that people felt that what I’d written was in some way promoting the push for stricter gun laws. The more I thought about it the more it saddened me to realize that we live in an environment where it’s almost natural to question anything we see on the news, hear on the radio or see on the internet.

The thought also crossed my mind that some may choose to believe that the shooting never happened as a way of feeling safe. Knowing that such things occur can make anyone experience the anxiety over the possibility of losing a loved one. So many I’ve spoken with following the shooting have made comments about considering homeschooling their children. The truth is that if it’s happened it can certainly happen again.  I know that after September 11th I experienced an anxiety that kept me up most nights. After explaining to my mother how I found it difficult to sleep after watching the footage, and listening to the commentary regarding the attack, she gave me a piece of advice that surprised me. She told me to turn off the television, and to stop watching the news. Though I know it’s not always wise to bury one’s head in the sand, I will admit that it did work. With the images and discussion of the horrific events blocked from my view at home I was able to rest easier; however, I never once denied that the event never happened. I was still aware of the lives lost, the pain felt, and the fear that comes with such an occurrence.

There are people who deny the holocaust happened, despite the terrifying images, personal accounts, readily available. There are those who deny that the shootings at Columbine High School happened, and many who hold fast to conspiracy theories regarding 9/11. The list goes on, and while one can understand suspicion over the way things actually happened, it is still baffling to understand how people can deny that some lost those most dear to them, or even that many suffered unspeakable agony. There were innocent lives lost, and in my opinion, it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to flat out denying such a delicate subject. Those who lost loved ones are hurting more than one can imagine. They should not have to prove or defend the fact that they lost someone in addition to suffering from intense grief.  If people could stop and think for a moment what it may feel like to have someone tell them their dead child, mother, father, or sibling never existed then I think more would consider approaching the subject with far more sensitivity.

In a heartbreaking article published this past September in New York Magazine, Lenny Pozner, a former Sandy Hook resident described what it was like losing his son in the shooting, and how difficult it was to grieve once conspiracy theories began to surface. One can only imagine how impossible it is to grieve with people questioning every aspect of the mass shooting, and telling the parents of the victims that their children never even existed. Pozner said, “My child-who lived, who was a real person- is basically going to be erased.” Similar sentiment was documented in a recent article by The Washington Post where Erica Lafferty, daughter of the slain Sandy Hook Elementary principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung said, “A quick Google search for the phrase ‘Sandy Hook truthers’ will turn up thousands of stories about how the worst day of my life was actually an elaborate conspiracy that never happened at all.” For these families who lost loved ones in the shooting, their nightmare clearly continues as they struggle with the knowledge that there are those out there who believe their grief is a complete lie.

I’d wanted to comment back to those who made such remarks, but I chose not to at the time. I realized that these people are not thinking about the subject from the perspective of losing a loved one. I also realized that the chances of my changing any of their minds were less than slim. I wasn’t going to argue with them, because they weren’t open to debate. It doesn’t matter how many facts come into play verifying how real the incident was, or if Snopes.com debunks every conspiracy theory, people will still believe what they wish In a way, this is my comment back to those who claim so many of the tragic events we see and learn about never happened. I can admit to understanding the want to question information. I certainly don’t believe everything I read, and see on television. But, I think it’s important to always realize that when it comes to loss of life, it’s a sad injustice to question the grief or loss of another. Have a little empathy for our fellow humans in their time of pain. They deserve that at the very least; everyone does.

 

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