There is so very little about the devastating moments after learning about our daughter’s murder that I remember clearly. Our brains have this amazing capacity for protecting us by limiting the amount of information that we can take in at one time. For nearly six months after the shooting, I asked myself and those around me daily, “Did this really happen?”
That’s what I thought about on Monday when I learned that Roger Stone, a political strategist, was attacking the parents of Seth Rich, the Democratic National Committee staffer whose murder has attracted the interest of conspiracy theorists. “Does anyone else thinks it's odd that Seth Rich's parents have no interest in finding out who killed their son ? #payoff?” he asked on Twitter. I thought of their grief, and remembered my own.
Our 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace was murdered in the nation’s worst elementary school mass shooting on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. Our son survived. Yet despite hearing from first responders, planning a funeral, and lowering a tiny white coffin into the ground, the idea that we would have to spend the rest of our lives without her was too difficult to accept. I heard her, saw her, and felt her for weeks afterward. I stood in a check-out line at a Target girls’ section with an arm full of clothing for a boy and a girl the following spring.
There was just no way I could fathom the amount of pain, the amount of missing, the amount of grief that flooded our world (and continues to) since Ana’s loss. As the five-year mark of the tragedy approaches, we still struggle. We have done amazing things. We have started a foundation. We have made the world more beautiful and more safe. We have raised tens of thousands of dollars for charity. We have raised awareness and provide funding for programs that reduce social isolation and promote community and connection to reduce violence. Our focus is schools. Our focus is raising our surviving son. Our focus is staying married and healthy and beating dismal odds. And yet for our family, the shock that this is your life for the rest of your life? It never fully goes away.
This level of shock/denial isn't uncommon or even remotely something we should pathologize. In the familiar Kübler-Ross “grief stages,” denial is the beginning of the journey and acceptance is the final destination. But grief is not linear, nor can it be neatly packaged or compartmentalized into logical phases. Grief is a loopy road full of U-turns and nosedives. Grief is messy and unpredictable. I have often said, “Somewhere on the continuum between overwhelmed and overcoming—that is where a griever lives at all times.”
I am finally willing to accept that Ana was brutally taken from us. I am willing to accept that my husband and I have joined a large but mostly marginalized tribe called “bereaved parents.” But I am not willing to accept that we live in an America that normalizes the abuse of bereaved parents who lose their loved ones to tragedy.
Culturally, we have much to understand about grief and providing support to victims. But we are now asking survivors of high-profile tragedy to withstand not only their loss, but flagrant and intentional harm after it.
This harm comes in the form of attacks on parents by conspiracy theorists. My own experience with them has taught me that they come in a few varieties:
- People who truly are trying to question events they don't understand
- People who don't necessarily question the event, but seek to elevate themselves by espousing conspiracy theories and mercilessly attacking families
- People of influence who use conspiracy theories to further a political agenda
Conspiracy theorists have been around for a long time. They shouldn't be confused with those who simply engage in healthy questioning of government, of people, or of ideas. Questioning is necessary and good. The sting of cruelty of those in the second category fades over time. You learn to pick them out and perhaps even feel sorry for them. It is wrong and awful but you come to realize that they are even more miserable than you are. And our local police have been amazing in their response to all of this.
But the third category is where you come in, Roger Stone. You intentionally use your platform to espouse theories debunked by law enforcement and that a bereaved family has expressly asked you to stop promoting.
Your actions have real consequences for those of us grieving. Your continued exploitation of these types of events result in targeted attacks by other hoaxers. Your continued attacks make it nearly impossible for us to heal. It is our job to handle the business of surviving child loss—forging a path on a planet with an incomplete family. It should not be our job to deal with the likes of the bullshit you put out.
You identify as a “libertarian, conservative, rabble rouser” and I counter that you are none of what you describe. There is nothing libertarian about attacking bereaved parents. There is nothing conservative about suggesting that Seth Rich’s family was “paid off.” There is no amount of money in the world that would be enough to take part in anything like this.
Be careful when you mess with the bereaved. We are starting to speak out and stand up for each other. Hear the rally cry of a small but fearless group of hurting people reminding you that this isn't funny. This is real.
You are not a rabble rouser. You are irresponsible. You are cruel. You are a bully. You are careless in word and deed. And I will not normalize this. We will not normalize this. None of us should.