Unfathomable devastation follows the death of a child, rendering parents at first numb with shock, then angry at everyone and everything and, ultimately, resigned to the loss but never quite understanding it.
Such deaths upend our perceived order of the world, which can level the strongest among us.
I’ve written before that the death of a child is like a shotgun blast to your chest. At first you can only stare in shock at the gaping hole, wondering what happened. Soul-wrenching pain that I still lack adequate words to describe soon surfaces, obliterating everything else. It is true, with time, the raw edges of this wound scab over, providing a modicum of protection — at least until the wound is bumped. The more time that passes, the more the raw edges are protected. But, the hole always is there.
As I type, the world is awaiting a news conference by law enforcement and the family of Mollie Tibbetts. We now know the University of Iowa student, who went missing in mid-July, met an untimely end, although more details are yet to be revealed.
Sadly, Iowans have been here before, and probably will be here again.
Just last week, as the family of La Porte City autistic teen Jake Wilson, missing since April, reacted to news of a grisly discovery, Iowans received a small, firsthand glimpse of how grief can manifest. Temper flared, angry words erupted, and hands met flesh as news cameras rolled.
In 2012, we saw the parents of Evansdale girls Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins confront their grief, and have continued to watch as the grief took its toll on their families and personal lives.
Before and since, glimpses of similar devastation have taken place, some marked by hours of uncertainty and others by weeks. Homes, too packed with memories, have been abandoned; others are meticulously preserved. Families rocked by grief have been torn asunder; others are fused tighter by the storm.
And, at either extreme are a sad few, still searching for understanding and justice.
Inevitably, when someone goes missing, the missing person’s family asks the larger community for help. I’ve often thought similar news conferences should come later because we fail to remember that these families still need our assistance.
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“At least, for the family, this is now at an end,” a co-worker said of the unwanted news that Tibbetts’ body was found.
I agree that few things are harder on a family than not knowing. Unfortunately, one of those harder things is knowing your child is dead.
Understanding what happened is one thing, and I’d also argue knowing is a very important thing. But coming to grips with it, especially when violence is involved, is an entirely different beast — often more unrelenting and vicious.
Our community must not allow those shouldering such grief to go it alone. Likewise, we cannot afford the luxury of second-guessing others’ reaction to a pain we pray to never experience.
Yet, in the face of such tragedy, it’s difficult to know what to do. I propose we start by acknowledging the grief, and resolving to be more gentle when and however it manifests.
• Comments: @LyndaIowa, (319) 368-8513, firstname.lastname@example.org