Mopping up after another tragedy

I clean my house in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy. Nesting is a coping skill for many women, and I find it comforting to get on my hands and knees and scrub a floor, listening but not watching as the television drones on with the latest lurid, sad details. It works; tears fall into a bucket of water and I can easily scootch around to turn my back to anyone else in the house, as I prefer to physically grieve in private.

After the “Dark Knight shooting,” my first instinct was to call Mom and Wayne (stepdad) and my brothers – we all lived in Aurora, Colo. at the same time and went to the movie theater together several times. My son Philip was born in Aurora, where I moved my family to buy a business at the intersection of East Mississippi Avenue and Chambers Road (one block or so farther and you’re in metro Denver). Brook saw her first movie in Aurora; Summer got to invite some friends to the movies for a special birthday treat; and when he was in second grade, Philip was invited to go with Uncle Bobby to the Century Theater to see The Lion King. That was a big deal for him.

Call home; that was my first thought when I heard about the massacre.

But it was impossible to call anyone, and “home” is now me in Madison, not them in Denver. They are dead now. In the last decade, I’ve been completely orphaned, and I cried a little over that, too. I mean, I already knew that, of course, but still, the urge to talk to them in the moment after hearing of the shootings was overwhelming, and so for the most brief of seconds, I forgot I couldn’t – and there was psychological relief in that. Then, of course, with the next heartbeat I remembered.

After selling the business, I worked for child protective services, supervising the child neglect and abuse intake unit; Columbine was in my service area. Small world, eh? Add to that that I was a police crisis interventionist in Cudahy doing death notifications that occasionally crossed over into South Milwaukee and Oak Creek, and I also wrote for those two newspapers for about seven years. My first thought on hearing about the killings in Oak Creek was to call Eddie, my former police partner who surely, as a veteran cop, knows the officer shot. But (sigh) Eddie’s retired now, and I didn’t want to call and add to his burden of being in and yet out of it all.

I know too well how that feels. Eddie, I’ll talk to you later, my friend. (He is pretty good about reading this blog to stay in touch all these many years later.)

This insider-outsider feeling is hard to shake, and it frankly leaves me shaken. The people in the office this morning (my friends in my life today) are talking in the halls about how the Oak Creek shooting puts things in perspective. I don’t know about that. I know I have a clean floor and emptier cabinets and closets.

I got rid of a lot of things this past week. I gave away my mother’s bread machine and her food processor – things I’d never use that she loved, which reminded me of her. Better I let go of the material things and instead write the story of her using them, cooking the great meals for her family in the way that she knew to show love, and pass along that instead.

My heart is heavy and my soul aches. I know what it feels like to lose people you love suddenly, without warning, tragically. I remember what it felt like to answer the phone call informing me that my son Daniel had been killed in a car accident. I remember the early morning phone call earlier this year asking permission to pull my brother off of life support after an unexpected brain bleed (I didn’t even know he was in the hospital). And so I feel so sorrowful for the survivors as well as for the affected family members of all of these tragedies – and yet we are all connected.

That’s what I know and all that I have to share this week. We are all connected in grief.

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