It is said that losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. From 2000 to 2006 (the last year for which verifiable data is available) 367,844 children under the age of 19 have died in the United States. The parents of these children can attest to this nightmare. The parents of deceased children spiral into confusion whether the children were victims of violent crime, accident, suicide or infant death. They oftentimes feel betrayed by God and search for reasons to continue living. The challenge is finding the path to recovery and redemption.
Following the kidnap and murder of my daughter Polly, Violet and I joined the fraternity of survivors. We are trying to recover from the sudden, unexpected death of our child, and redeem our lives in the wake of her tragedy. We testify in Congress and State legislatures. We advocate in the media, in town hall meetings and in living rooms. We pursue righteous causes, and offer encouragement, support and hope to other families who are facing life without their children. We fear not, for we have nothing left to fear. For us, rejection is a hurdle, not a brick wall. We are everywhere, because family is universal, and death does not discriminate.
Our children give meaning to their lives, but it is up to us to give meaning to their deaths. We do this by fighting back. Instead of sleepwalking through life, we extricate ourselves from the abyss of grief by communicating the lessons that we have learned in hope of preventing future tragedies. We don‘t drown our grief in the sad downward spiral of substance abuse; we choose to give new purpose to our own shattered lives by ensuring that our children did not die in vain. We reject the unsustainable heartbreak of denial and instead try to ensure that tragedies are not repeated, that we can use our experience to support others similarly afflicted, and that some level of social benefit results from our actions. This is how we ensure that our deceased children are not relegated to data points.
Polly would want our lives to have purpose and value. She would want us to love and laugh and to find a future full of hope and substance. She would encourage us to take action, effect legislation, write poetry and touch lives. The process of burying our daughter exposed our emotions like dangling nerves. But, we survived the great depression. We take time to smell the flowers, listen to the music and appreciate all of the beautiful things that life has to offer.
The following dispatches were written in the spirit of recovery and redemption. We felt no guilt, harbored no malice and are forever grateful for the experience.