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Growing Up

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Made Like Him, Like Him We Rise

Lives again our glorious King, Alleluia! 
Where, O death, is now thy sting? Alleluia! 
Once he died our souls to save, Alleluia! 
Where's thy victory, boasting grave? Alleluia! 
Soar we now where Christ has led, Alleluia! 
Following our exalted Head, Alleluia! 
Made like him, like him we rise, Alleluia! 
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies, Alleluia! 
- "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," verses 3 and 4, Charles Wesley (1739)
The soaring soprano notes and trumpet blasts of this traditional Easter hymn lifted us up on Easter Sunday even as tears started and I had to mouth the words around my constricted throat. One of my favorite pieces of music reminded me that we are called to hope, to envision a better future, to have faith that good will triumph in the end. It could not have come at a better time.
Perhaps you have stumbled through my latest entries (stumbles due to the faulty writing and not to your reading ability) and realized that our spring has been full of tragedy.  In addition to the loss of life, we had to sit through a day of school closure due to a "valid threat" to schools across the Denver metro area. Over 434,000 students and their teachers sat at home on a Wednesday because a young woman, obsessed with Columbine, had flown to Denver from her Florida home, purchased a gun and ammunition, and threatened to take young lives.
The situation was not a reality I ever want to adopt - feeling held hostage by an individual with mental health problems who was somehow allowed to by weapons with an out-of-state license, no waiting period, and no regard for the fact that she cannot even buy a beer at age 19, but could somehow buy a gun.  One neighbor reflected, "We close the schools so that the gun stores stay open."  Another noted that we had a spring snow day one week, and a spring terrorist day the next.
I can't make the situation feel normal, can't normalize it for my children. Their resilience in the face of danger reassures me in small ways and horrifies me in others. How can they be expected to operate in school with much larger pressures weighing on their young shoulders?
My mood was a bit low going into Easter, but this pivotal spring holy day reminded me of my duty as a Christian and as a parent, to hold on to hope, to have faith in a better day, and to work hard not only to envision this better world but to make it possible.




Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Bad Writing about Hard Things

After a week of time putting some distance between us and the tragic death of a young woman we knew, I re-read my last post and now must apologize for bad writing, for my inadequacies.  To write well an author needs to plumb the depths of their own emotion in order to "show and not tell" the story to the reader.  I struggled last week to deal with my emotions: shock, fear, sorrow, anger, worry. There was little desire to dredge them all up as I spent most of my time squashing them down in order to function.

We went to a candlelight vigil in the neighborhood park last Thursday night which saw hundreds of people gather to pay homage to the young girl.  Aden and her friends disappeared into the throng near the photo wall, while the other moms and I stopped a long way out, stricken with grief and unable to move closer.  The overwhelming sense of tragic wrongness sat heavy on all the parents assembled. Children in the first blush of their young lives should never go first.

Several parents shared their own stories of sons and daughters who struggled with mental health. One father told me that he was wrestling with "survivor's guilt."  Their daughter had attempted suicide twice and by some miracle had recovered and was now thrilled with life at college. He said, "there but for the grace of God go I," and it's a sentiment that most of us shared.  The multitude of candles glowed beautifully on the dear faces of loved ones in our community as we gathered in small groups. Their hugs provided some comfort but couldn't alleviate the emptiness, the reason for our gathering.

At youth group on Sunday, the young people were still reeling from their losses, including the death of a sophomore boy from a private school near our church.  The school had kept the incident fairly quiet, partly because it occurred over spring break, and the students in my group wondered if the young boy's lack of popularity, his quiet demeanor, had contributed to the lack of conversation around his death.  They are all wondering about their worth, the impact that they have on the lives of others. In social media land they calculate their value by instagram followers and snapchat streaks and wonder if obtaining the magic number of "likes" or "views" would somehow protect them from feelings of inadequacy.

How do we help them realize that their value is intrinsic, and the likes and views are as fake as Monopoly money?  Real connections matter, a small number of close friends and family matters, future hopes and dreams matter. In the midst of our struggle to affirm the teenagers in our lives came another bombshell; last night we heard the news of a death by suicide at a different high school in the district.

The loss of life must stop. I don't know how to prevent it, which adds to the general unease and worry gathering mass in my stomach. All I can do is tell my children how special they are, how much they mean to our family and friends, and pray that this wave has finally crashed and withdraws back into the sea.



Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Death by Suicide

The correct term for a young person's death at their own hands is death by suicide. Not "committed," no judgment attached, just a straightforward statement regarding an event that is anything but straightforward. Such a death tips the world on its axis.  Our neighborhood and school communities are now reeling because of such a loss.  A young lady who grew up with Aden, who swam on the summer team with her, joined her for Brownies and Girl Scouts and youth group, has died by suicide.

Aden and her friends are devastated. Though the seniors have taken different paths at the large high school, their elementary school classmates are like family.. They gathered in small groups at each other's homes over the weekend, crying over shared memories and tentatively (guiltily) sharing their plans for the future: college, majors, jobs.  They have also shared their own mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.  I am heartened by the outreach and support but terrified by the depth of the troubles they face. I want to get counselors for each one, remove the burden of homework and exams and social media, but I feel powerless in the face of their culture.

The weight of grief will not entirely lift this school year and their friend's absence will mar prom and graduation and high school memories.  This recent loss was the third death by suicide that our school community has suffered in 2019.  Apparently this is considered a side effect, that 'contagion' is a medically observed risk of youth suicide. Add that word to the list of the most odious terms ever conceived.

Anger is a part of the grieving process, and no one knows where to direct their anger in such difficult times. Some people direct it at the school, as if they could prevent this when families, faith communities and medical professionals have not. Some people ask why the school held a day of mourning on Friday when they did not have it in February for the first student who died by suicide, ignorant of the fact that the families had different wishes. The school has done everything possible to respect the families and help the students.

I am also angry and have no target for my anger, which of course is closely accompanied by fear.  It's taken me four days to write this post, struggling to corral the various thoughts that swoop through my mind like Dementors. My greatest desire is to shield my children, tell them how much I love them, but they can't understand the depth of this emotion, not until they have children of their own. I never did. The greatest force in the world - a parent's love for their child - cannot always save them.