Thoughts about Newtown on the Anniversary of My Brother’s Death


Childhood Christmas with my brother, Rob

Today marks thirty-nine years since my brother Rob and my uncle Ted were killed in an automobile accident. As I remember and grieve for them, I also mourn the deaths of children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, in the latest U.S. mass shooting.

I try to keep my blog and tweets positive, and not political. This week I’ve struggled not to let myself be consumed by anger, frustration, and sorrow for my country of origin, a country whose President – until yesterday – did not utter the g-word. On Friday, we watched his first statement at the White House; on Sunday night/Monday morning, we stayed up until 2:30am in England to watch the interfaith vigil live. Still, he did not use the word ‘guns’. He finally did so yesterday, and I pray his efforts will lead to significant change. Until then, I find myself unable to find words for a situation that to me is inexplicable and beyond my understanding.

I do know something, though, about sudden death: the utter unpreparedness for it by those left behind, the shock and trauma, the desperate finality of it. On the worst night of my life, I stood in an icy parking lot, fearing and in my bones somehow knowing the worst, and asked my father, ‘Is he dead?’ My father replied, ‘Yes. And Uncle Ted, too.’

Now I can’t get out of my mind the news story of the Newtown firehouse, the parents fearing and somehow in their bones knowing the worst, asking the state police officer ‘Are there any survivors? Any?’ And the officer replying, ‘No.’

I know something, too, of what will happen next. I cannot fathom parental grief at losing a child, for which I am infinitely thankful, but I do know about sudden death right before Christmas: about multitudes of well-meaning friends, neighbours, and others who descend on the family with good intentions and heartfelt sympathy; about presents wrapped but never given nor returned, just buried in the back of a closet; about funerals on Christmas Eve and broken families on Christmas Day.

I know about the impact these deaths will have, forever and ever, on families and loved ones. When the holidays are over and the friends and neighbours — who made the turkey dinner and spoke platitudes and provided genuine support and comfort — return to their own daily lives, the house will become quieter than it ever was before, and the forever-journey will really begin. Mine began with my return to senior year of college. Newtown parents will go out in public, to the grocery store or church or a friend’s house. Those who work outside the home will return to their offices. Impossible. Yet they will do it. They will weep, in private and sometimes in public.

Finally I know those remaining will, most likely, find joy in their lives again. Time will pass, as it does, and life will go on, as it does. But nothing will ever be the same.



16 Responses

  1. The pain of loss forever lingers. I’m sorry for your loss, for all of our losses. Warm holiday wishes.

  2. Carolyn, I remember quite vividly the night so long ago when you lost your brother and Uncle Ted. It was one of the toughest calls I have ever received, although I don’t remember who got in touch with me. You have been very eloquent about the analogy between your sad experience and that of the Newtown parents. It must have been impossible to comprehend the grief your parents felt at losing their son. I also remember how we tried valiantly to be strong and supportive for you when we began our final semester of college.
    I have also listened for the President to begin the dialog about how to prevent another tragedy such as the Newtown one. Although he needs to proceed while there is momentum in the country, Obama also needs to be sensitive to those grieving at holiday time. It won’t be an easy task, but the country needs to make some serious changes about treatment of the mentally ill, and more importantly, about guns.

  3. Thanks so much, seasweetie and Mary! I hope my post didn’t appear to be looking for sympathy — I tried simply to describe ‘how it is’ (for me, anyway) and do appreciate your kind thoughts.

    Mary, I’ll always be grateful for the love and support from you and our college friends. On the broader issue, I can only speak for myself but in my opinion the most sensitive, meaningful thing anyone in power could do is to act urgently, now, with speed and determination. Hope that’s going on ‘behind the scenes’ as we type – just one person’s view.

    Thanks again both for your comments.

  4. After reading this, and after all the events that have happened, I dunno about you, but I could use a huge, giant, long hug.

    Here is a virtual one from me to you.

    I love this post, as sad as it is… Acknowledging these sadnesses is one of the things that makes us human: that in spite of the inhumane things that happen to us, there are those of us who care to have love and light in spite of them, confronting the sadness with a spirit of strength. You have that, Carolyn, and it is inspiring and helps me keep on keepin’ on.


  5. Beautiful words, both heartfelt and immensely personal. I have had trauma in my life, and all that you have said is true.

    I am a hater of guns. I am tired of the 2nd Amendment quoting, rights of others to “bear arms.” I would, however like to take issue with your criticism of the president. The NRA has called the shots, no pun intended, in Washington for decades. These are the very people who spent the last four years dedicated to seeing that President Obama did not get a second term. Perhaps with all the other things going on in this country, he didn’t see taking on the NRA would end in success. The other focus here should be the lack of mental health care in this country. Fortunately Obama’s health care act (aka Obamacare) will give aid to the mentally ill. I personally have a friend who has had to advocate for her son with mental illness. The hoops you have to jump through, the bells and whistles to ring, are nearly impossible and not for the faint of heart. While I detest guns, they are not the only problem. Complacency towards violence in this country is at an all time high. How sad that it took the death of 20 babies and 6 teachers to open the eyes of the population.

  6. Karin P, hello and thanks for your generous comment and virtual hug! Those are definitely in order for everyone these days, and I know you are keeping on keepin’ on. Good on ya.

    Laurie S, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment – truly appreciate it. I applaud the President’s efforts and do understand the problem is multi-faceted. I hope the new health care measures help your friend with her son. (I’ve now lived in two countries that provide national health care and I support it wholehearedly — but that’s another topic.) Thank you again for taking the time to comment and share your experience.

  7. Hi Carol,

    I thought of you right away on Friday when I read about the terrible news from Connecticut because you know better than most about a terrible tragedy that occurs during the December holidays. You also know too much about the stark horror of what many in Newtown are going through. You also know how difficult, but how necessary it is for one to soldier on. I think our loved ones who go on ahead expect it of us. One of my students this past semester told me she is from Newtown when she came to turn in her final paper on Monday. She was so sad while she was in my office.

    I feel that Obama might have a better chance of getting some sort of gun control passed at this time because he can’t run for reelection, so there is significantly less political pressure on him, and this allows him to use the “bully pulpit” of the White House to great benefit for this issue. Obama appears to understand the necessity of striking quickly because I see he wants legislation from the Biden task force by January. It is also useful that next month is the time for the State of the Union address, and I have no doubt that the president wants to report progress on this issue.


  8. Carol, I experienced that same sudden loss when my sister was 14 and I was 13. She died when an enormous rock rolled over her on Easter Saturday. It totally destroyed my mother and she became paranoid that something would happen to one of us at Christmas as well. Losing a child is unnatural. Losing a child to a gunman is unthinkable.
    I do not understand why people should be allowed to carry guns. This was a mass killing, but how many other killings take place all the time because people can carry firearms?
    Let us hope that Obama will do something about it at last.

  9. Thank you, Eleanor and Rosemary. Eleanor, how sad this must be for your student from Newtown, and I’m sure you gave her great sympathy and support.

    Rosemary, what a tragic death for your sister and can only imagine how traumatic that would have been for your mother and family. I think many of us around the world are hoping that indeed Obama and the US will take real action now.

    As seasweetie said so perfectly above, the pain of loss forever lingers.

  10. Carolyn , I am sending you a huge virtual hug from Oxfordshire, and a prayer for you too, on this very very sad day. xx

  11. Thanks, Anne. Cheers and wishing you and your family a happy holiday season.

  12. This is my first visit to your blog, Carolyn, and I am overwhelmed by your reflection on such personal loss and its repercussions that also encompass all who are grieving in this season. You write so poignantly and sensitively.
    Remembering my own dear departed loved ones, I concur that life is never the same again. Death is always a shock and more so for those who appeared to have their whole lives ahead of them.
    Thinking of you in your sadness and loss. May God bring you peace and comfort.

  13. Joy, hello and welcome! Thank you for visiting and especially for your kind words. I think this time of year in particular causes many to reflect and remember those who are no longer with us, and indeed to find peace and comfort in our blessings.

    I look forward to exploring your blog – wishing you and yours a peaceful and blessed holiday season.

    • Thanks, Carolyn. The feeling is mutual. I’m so pleased to have met you and look forward to getting to know you better here and on Twitter.
      Wishing you rest and peace in this busy season. God bless you 🙂

  14. Carolyn,
    Your words are so eloquent and stated so well I am at a loss as to what to say yet want to say something. I remember well when your brother died and the tragic and sudden loss that was for you. I feel so sad for the Newtown families. I agree with you that there is opportunity for change in the gun laws. I hope that this administration can act fast and get the laws changed before the next time a sick person decides to act out in irreparable ways. I hope Obama is reading this blog and congress doesn’t miss another opportunity.
    Please give your mom my best.

  15. Janet, thanks so much for your thoughtful comment – your words mean a lot and are truly appreciated. I will indeed give my mom your best.

    Hope you are wll and wish you and all your family a blessed 2013!

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