When the Horrific Happens

Dec 14, 2012

It’ll be five months Thursday.

Five months since I sat in the library of Aurora’s Gateway High School, waiting with a friend for news of her son. Counselors offered to talk. Pastors offered to pray. Volunteers brought food and urged us to eat. But we could not talk or pray or eat. We watched the clock and waited. It would be an agonizing eight hours before they confirmed our worst fears:

Her son had been shot in Aurora’s Century 16 Theater. He didn’t make it.

Five months later, we still grieve. Today I watched the news and my stomach clenched at my memory of that day spent in the library, the sound of the loved ones’ wails and the feel of their hands in mine.

Here we are again.

Have mercy. It’s all too much.

As I write this, my little ones sit in an elementary school three miles away. Two in kindergarten, the other first grade. This morning, I made sack lunches, served up breakfast, brushed teeth, combed hair and put in pink-ribbonned pigtails. At 9 am, I dropped them off in front of the school with an “I love you!” and presumption of safety. It never occurred to me that the day could be anything but ordinary: the Pledge of Allegiance. Reading. Peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Recess.

Hundreds of parents in Newtown, Connecticut went through a similar routine this morning. They dropped off little ones with a kiss and presumption of safety. They couldn’t have been more mistaken.

I don’t have any details other than what I’ve read and heard, just like you. But, after my day sitting in an Aurora school library, I can imagine …

The innocent eyes of those who watched it happen, those who saw far two much and can’t erase the images. They survived, but lost friends. Lived, but died. The cost is too great, and already it haunts them.

The worried faces of mamas and daddies, who haven’t yet received word. They wait, hoping the lack of answers doesn’t mean what they fear. They call hospitals, text friends and family, search neighbors’ faces and question witnesses for a reason to hope. But no one can say. No one can tell them if their babies will ever come home.

The weary first responders, who deal with trauma and injustice every day. But today they realized textbooks and trainings cannot prepare the human heart for the site of a schoolroom filled with children. So much life extinguished at once, too many dreams snuffed. They will do their job, solemn and brave, but will nearly break in two in the doing of it.

The Police Chief, Commander-in-chief, and everyone in between, who are tasked with leading us through the inconceivable. And yet, behind titles and political affiliations, they are fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers. Position doesn’t immunize them to heartbreak, and yet they must push past it to lead us. How? How will they find words for a world desperate with grief?

Such brave souls, all these who today walk through darkness.

As for those of us who watch from a distance, what are we to do when the horrific happens?

We will certainly pull loved ones close, and whisper words we mustn’t fail to say: I’m sorry. I forgive you. I love you. This brings us comfort, but does nothing for those whose arms are empty.

We can watch the news, speculate and judge, blame and sensationalize. But emotion unchecked is what got us into this in the first place. Now is not the time for speculation, sensationalism or blame. Perhaps never.

We can discuss procedures to modify and laws to be changed, even make phone calls to politicians. Those conversations must come, sooner than later. But not today.

Today there is little you and I can do. Aurora taught me this. Any offering seems small, trite.

But I can cry like a mother who feels the loss as if it were her own child. “Mourn with those who mourn,” the Bible says (Romans 12:15). Yes, exactly. When the horrific happens, your tears and mine are our most sacred offering.

A few minutes ago, I picked up little ones from their elementary school, alive and well. As we headed home, I explained, in simple terms, that several boys and girls were hurt today.

“Will you pray with me?” I asked them.

They readily agreed, praying the simple prayers of 5 and 6 year olds, asking the God they trust to heal boys and girls, mamas and daddies, and make sad hearts happy once again. Yes, dear God, make it so. Then, when we finished, the car grew quiet. Through tears of her own, my sweet girl whispered:

“That broke my heart.”

Yes, Sweetheart. Me, too.


  1. Robbie Iobst

    Well said. You put into words many of the warbling emotions of my heart today. Thank you. And May God cover those families with His presence and may He catch all of our tears.

    • Michele

      Yes, dear God. Make it so.

  2. Melissa

    Such beautifully written sadness. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • Michele

      Thanks for prompting me to do so, M.

  3. Brent Johnson

    I was thinking about your time in Aurora when I heard of this today. Well said Michele. I would want to be like one of the friends of Job that sat and said nothing as Job grieved. They were better before they started telling him how to fix things. That is what I think about this too. So many will have opinions of guns or no guns. My heart goes out to these families. I pray that God will heal this land and bring us back to him. Thanks for a great article Michele.

    • Michele

      Yes, Brent. Our mournful, tear-filled silence.

  4. Julie Anne Staub

    Such a beautiful and poignant post. Thank you for sharing on such a difficult day. Peace to your friend who lost her son and to all those who mourn today. We will keep our prayers surrounding them in the days to come.

    • Michele

      Thank you, Julie.

  5. Rowene Van Matre

    Hi Michele, I can only imagine what all of you Mothers are going through right now. I watch how this great country of ours is fast becoming all of satin’s doings and we sit back and wonder why! We don’t take time to read God’s word. Even the most watered down translations, we should have some instruction and truth from it. Jesus said He wanted a personal friendship with us! Then we can pass on to all around us, family and friends and even at the grocery store of every day life. Gads! What has happened in the family of the boy who felt like the only way to get attention is by hate? Believing there is nothing waiting for him after he dies. You talk about being deceived! “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do! Our country is having the birth-pains that God said we would have if we make all the wrong choices! The drought-fires, earthquakes, flooding, wind storms, and all the killings “are they not warnings of signs and wonders? When will we ever (Christians) get off our lazy rear-ends and keep our leaders accountable and quit voting for drugs, abortion, screwed up marriages “or not even married” and not giving God through His Son Jesus the praise and glory for all our blessings we do have. We can’t even take time out of our busy lives to get together to pray for our churches or our country! If it does happen in a church– we are lucky to have only a couple of people show up. Think how pleasing it would be to Jesus if the majority of the Christians would take time to do it and wouldn’t our country be more blessed for it? I guess I needed to vent here! Thanks for listening! God’s blessings on you day! Rowene

  6. Lisa Kachel

    Michele, thank you for articulating everything I was feeling yesterday but couldn’t seem to put it together in my own mind. My heart is broken and I feel helpless in figuring out what to do. Romans 12:15 hit the nail right on the head for me. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Bob Valleau

    Beautifully written! Thank you, Michele. May God comfort all who mourn for those who lost their lives and for those dealing with the hurt and pain in the aftermath.

  8. Emily Sirkel

    What genuine sorrow expressed by your precious little one in her words, “That broke my heart.” We are all feeling that heartbreak this weekend. Thank you Michele for your beautiful, sorrowful words and for the sweet prayers of you and your little ones for those shattered families.


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