Warning: This piece may be triggering to some in regards to the Sandy Hook tragedy.
I’ve never written about Sandy Hook. I’ve tried many times but words failed me. I’m still struggling to organize what I need to say. Andrew Solomon’s piece with Peter Lanza has haunted me since I read it. It fills me with the same grief and sadness I felt days, weeks, and months after the tragedy.
That day is a blur in parts for me, and still so real and fresh in others. I remember seeing the story pop up on the Facebook feed while I was working and not putting too much attention to it. Then more information started coming out, and more and more. A whole class full of six year olds unaccounted for. That’s when my brain turned off. I couldn’t comprehend something so devastating so I did what any professional does and went to work. Later that afternoon Honey took the girls to the grocery store and I turned on the news; and balled. Later that night word came through the National Association of School Psychologists that one of the confirmed victims was one of our own; I balled some more. Meanwhile I was fielding phone calls and Facebook messages from friends and family around the world checking to make sure it wasn’t me in that school. It so easily could have been. Reeling from the unfathomable loss and the reality of a situation that just can’t be true we learned that one of the victims was the daughter of a high school friend of Honey and my cousin. Honey’s family spoke of him often, always in high regard, and now they were calling each other crying over the horror of this event and how directly it impacted them.
Honey leaves for work around 6:30 every day. Usually the girls are sleeping when he leaves. There were often times he would leave without seeing them in the morning which is something I know bothered him. Since December 14, 2012 he has never left the house without kissing both of them goodbye, even if it means waking them up in the process. We’ve never spoken of it directly but I imagine his thought is “what if it’s the last time?”
I am a school psychologist. I know what it’s like to be in Mary Sherlach’s shoes and I have never doubted that if put in her position I would make the very same choice. I work with students like Adam Lanza who are diagnosed with autistic spectrum disorders and also have fascinations with weapons, war, and violence. I work with those students every day. It is my life’s work and my calling. But yet, I struggle with knowing that there is only so far my help can go. I can support a student at-risk through their school day and structure their schedule to meet their needs but I can’t go home at night with them. I can’t ensure they have the best professionals working with them outside of school to establish strong therapy and medication. I can’t help them mend fences with their parents. I can’t offer reassurance, guidance, and support to their parents who are struggling to understand their children and hold it together. I can’t tell you the numbers of times I’ve heard a parent say “I just don’t know what to do anymore”.
I’m speculating, but I can only imagine that’s how Nancy Lanza felt. Did she feel trapped as a mother? Did she want to do whatever she could to protect her baby boy even if it meant isolating herself from her own world to live in his? Was she in denial about the severity of Adam’s behavior? These are the questions about this case that fill my mind. We will never know what made Adam do those terrible things on that terrible day. We will never know if Nancy felt afraid of her own child or if she never saw (or chose to never see) signs of a more serious issue.
The grief over this event isn’t only about the tragic loss of young life for me. I do indeed mourn the death of all 20 of those babies. The six adults who were doing jobs they loved with students they loved and protecting “their kids” are my colleagues. However, I know I belong to a small minority of people who also mourn the death of a mother and her son. I’m deeply saddened to know that our system of mental health care in this country failed them, greatly. Lastly, especially in light of Solomon’s brilliant piece, it pains me to know that Peter Lanza’s grief makes him question whether or not he should change his name, and re-write his history by eliminating all mention of his son so far as to conclude that it would have been better had he never been born.