Thursday, August 13, 2009

Some more thoughts on my Columbine post

Dave Cullen, the author of "Columbine," was kind enough to stop by & comment on my recent post about his book. (This is the cool sort of thing that would never have happened in a pre-Internet world….) I had found his website when looking for stuff about the book -- hadn't checked it out too thoroughly, but went for a longer visit. There's all kinds of stuff there if you're interested in learning more about the book & his work on it -- including a promotional video trailer for the book. (Did you know that books, like movies, can have trailers?? I didn't.)

I watched the trailer, which is just under three minutes long, and right towards the very end, he observes that, many of the people affected by the Columbine tragedy felt "rushed to closure... and they resented it terribly," and adds, "The most important thing other communities can learn is, don't rush the healing."

I thought, "Touche!!" I thought of my own traumatic loss, & the other bereaved parents I know, in real life & online -- and how anxious everyone around us was/is to reassure themselves that everything is going to be OK. That we are OK. That we've "moved on." (Or, if we haven't, to hustle us along, so they won't have to worry about us anymore.)

Well, everything is not OK. Yes, it's 11 years later, for me, and there are many aspects of my life that are just fine (now), of course -- but it's never, ever going to be "OK" that my daughter was stillborn, or that my husband & I couldn't have the other children we very much wanted. Stillbirth and infertility changed me -- just as any life experience, good or bad, changes you, for better or for worse -- sometimes slowly and almost imperceptably, sometimes like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. Eventually, you learn to live with what happened, and with the new you and the new reality that is your life now.

But it's never OK. And the process of dealing with it never really ends, which is something that I think "outsiders" often fail to grasp. (In her fabulous stillbirth memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (it seems strange to write of a stillbirth memoir being "fabulous," but it really is…!), which we discussed in a session of the Barren B*tches Book Tour a few months ago, Elizabeth McCracken writes,"Closure is bullshit." As I wrote in my post then, I think it's my favourite line in the entire book.)

But on the other hand, I hate people thinking that I'm NOT OK -- that I am going to turn psycho on them or something, because of what happened to me -- that they have to tiptoe around me when it comes to the subject of our daughter and why we have no other children. I hate feeling pitied. I hate the silence, the fact that my daughter is never mentioned these days. Tash had a mind-blowing post the other day about silence among her family members and the truly ludicrous situation she found herself in as a result.

As I think I've written before, I'm not sure which is worse -- the silence, having people tiptoe around me and treating me like I'm this fragile creature -- or (more common these days, now that 11 years have passed) that they totally forget/ignore what happened and just assume that I'm fine with attending their baby showers & listening ad nauseum to their never-ending stories about pregnancy and toilet training and back to school traumas, or their little digs about how much time/money/flexibility dh & I must have (unspoken: because we don't have kids like them, of course…!). It's a fine balance, and I suspect I'll be going back and forth between the two sides for the rest of my life.

It's funny -- I initially debated whether I should write anything on this blog about the Columbine book, and here I've written two posts about it. At first glance, it wasn't really related to the issues I usually write about here. But the more I thought about it, Columbine was a story of grief & loss too. A different kind of grief & loss than I have experienced, of course -- but I believe there's a common thread that runs through grief experiences that connects the bereaved to one another, and gives us some measure of insight and understanding into other people's pain. (Not everyone feels this connection, perhaps, but I think many of us do.) Wordgirl had a beautiful post this week along these lines, about reading Alice Sebold's "The Lovely Bones" (another book in my gargantuan "to read" pile -- which I must get to before the movie comes out this December) and "the transferrability of trauma."

Oprah was going to do a show about Columbine on the 10th anniversary of the event this past April, featuring the book. The show was taped but, at the last minute, the producers made the decision not to show it. Ever. On the one hand, it was understandable -- there was already criticism of how the media were handling coverage of the 10-year mark, the whole question of giving publicity to the killers and exploiting people's pain. Emotions were raw. I know from my own experience how things that are OK on other days of the year are harder to deal with on or around "anniversary" dates, particularly the significant ones that end in a 0 or 5.

On the other hand, though, it seemed to me such a typical "head in the sand" reaction to dealing with a painful topic. Of course, the mass murder of children by children isn't easy or pleasant to think about or talk about. Neither are stillborn babies.

But if we're going to learn about why these things happen -- how to prevent these kinds of tragedies in the future, and and better deal with those who are suffering because of them -- whether "these things" are stillbirth, school shootings, planes flying into skyscrapers or whatever else life throws at us (and there will always be something) -- we need to be able to talk about them openly and honestly -- with compassion for what others are going through, and with respect for each other's choices and opinions.


  1. Great post Loribeth. I agree, we should talk about these uncomfortable thing more and then maybe people would learn how to deal more appropriately. You are right about how people want to rush you to be better and/or just want the old version of you. I don't think anyone really gets, except for other bereaved Moms, that that version is dead.

  2. This post is brilliant. Thank you for writing it. It is a shame that she won't air the show--at least on a later date, a different date. Because the things that are difficult to talk about are often the things that need the most conversation.

  3. Thank you, too, for acknowledging that this goes on, & on, & on. At least once a month when around someone else, the mention of a child, the thought comes to me, wondering when God will recognize there was a mistake made & i'm suppose to have a 3 year old running around my feet & asking questions. Especially as no other children have arrived, & i'm now fairly sure none ever will.

    It is hard! Three years is hard, i really can't imagine reaching the 10 or 15 year mark.

    Yet, God promises to comfort. And i try to trust in that. It is hard, every day, hard.

    Blessings on you. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I totally agree. It's the things we DON"T know how to talk about that need to be given a voice. I am surprised that O gave up on it. There was a right way to do it, I wish she had figured it out.But then again, it's so hard for us to give voice to all of it, imagine how clueless the 'innocents' are...
    Great post Loribeth.

  5. "But it's never OK. ... and never going to be OK."
    In my heart I know it's true. And it scares me. I'm not ready to become a new me. Don't think DH wants a new me either.
    Yesterday he said that talking about grief doesn't work for him...
    (And I'm scared to write this too)

  6. That was really cool that the author stopped by (twice!). I requested the book from the library and if it's as fantastic as I believe it will be, I will buy it for my own bookshelf.

    Great post. I think it's fascinating, too, how people interpret and rewrite (which includes erasing) a tragic event to fit their own belief system.

  7. What a great post! Thanks for the links - it has been great food for thought.

    It seems like the things that are the most difficult to talk about are the ones that ~need~ to be talked about. Instead, they are stuffed in a closet.

  8. How awesome that you got a visit from the author!

    I grew up in Colorado - in fact, I was married in Littleton and for a time, my brother made his home there in Highlands Ranch - so close. When the news of the shootings at Columbine reached me, I was devastated - so much hurt and horror in a place I still consider home and had always felt safe in. Even though I had "moved on" from Colorado following a spouse and work, the mountains are still my first home.

    You completely hit the nail on the head with your words about being okay and yet not being okay. Even I tell myself that I should be fine now - and yet, sometimes, some moments - just are not okay. I just get better at living with it.

    I have been wanting to read McCracken's book - mainly due to your review, for some time now. You always motivate me to keep lengthening my "must read" list!

    Good on ya! :0)

  9. Great post. I loved this: "Closure is bullshit."

    Pretty trenchant.

    I really liked this, too: "there's a common thread that runs through grief experiences that connects the bereaved to one another, and gives us some measure of insight and understanding into other people's pain."

    That's a big part of why I wrote the book. Several times, I questioned whether it was really necessary, but I kept coming back to my own reaction: I had known nothing about Columbine, or really taken particular interest in school shootings. But once I got to know the people involved here, and shared what they went through, I understood so much more about my self, and the pain I've been close to under entirely different circumstances. I felt that if I could just communicate that--not the intellectual idea, but the feelings the events provoked in me--other people would have a similar experience. Hopefully.

  10. Thanks, Dave (if you're still reading), for your kind words. As you can tell, the book made a strong connection with me, even though the most violent thing I ever witnessed in high school was probably a snowball fight in the parking lot. Times change...

    I'm curious what (if anything) you're working on now -- any other books in the works? Or is the Columbine story still keeping you busy?

  11. I'm spending most of my time promoting it, still, but getting to work on a couple mag pieces, which could turn into books.