Saturday, March 3, 2012

A Community in Grieving

(Warning for sensitive content. School shooting and funerals discussed; offensive language used)

What can I say about today? Today I drove through a town, which is usually the source of pleasure for me and my family. A trip to Chardon Ohio has always meant apple picking, a trip to get fresh eggs or honey. It's an idyllic northeast Ohio town, just north to where I grew up.

Today however, the apple orchards were lined with trees adorned with black and red ribbons. Signs with hearts were scattered across yards. My car navigated the winding roads, passing makeshift memorials and home made tributes. The site of the town, which usually makes me smile, brought me to tears. Such pain today. Such loss.

I parked my car on Main Street and continued to walk the rest of the way to the church. Teenagers wept openly in the streets. Mothers held their babies a little more protectively than usual. In a town where you could walk the streets for hours and not see a cop, I lost track of how many patrols I encountered. I was attending the funeral for two reasons. The first reason was, like everyone else, I had an amazing sense of grief regarding the events that took place in the beginning of the week. I had to let go of my anger, my sadness over the senseless loss of life so young. I had to join the group in letting the community know they were not alone in their grief.

On Monday February 27th, the unthinkable happened in Chardon. Mothers and fathers dropped their children off at the high school. They probably discussed the after school schedule for the day, whether or not lunches were forgotten. Maybe they talked about grades, or choice in clothes and music. Maybe they remained silent. Some of the families said good bye to their students either at home or in the school parking lot, and it was the last time they saw their child alive. Moments later, before classes began, a boy opened fire in the cafeteria. Three students were fatally wounded. One remains in serious condition and another has just been released from the hospital.

As a mother, I had to stand with this community so close to home. I cannot begin to fathom dropping my child off at school, and an hour later learning that he is dead. It is a thought that is too immense for my soul and heart.

But a second reason that sealed my decision for going was a tweet made by the infamous Westboro Baptist "Church." They declared that they would be picketing the funeral. For those of you that are unaware of the WBC, just imagine the most vulgar, inappropriate, despicable person that you possibly can. They frequently picket the funerals of victims of acts of violence, or soldiers. They spit on people entering the funeral. They call those mourning the dead "Fags, cunts, sluts, queer, dykes." Yes, I typed every one of those hateful words, because I want to share with you how low the members of this hate group are. They call a mother burying her child a slut and a whore, as she is mourning. A mother who did nothing. To say they call names is not descriptive enough to depict their black souls. And they were threatening to come to MY corner of Ohio. MY turf. Well let me tell you, Westboro Baptist Hate Group: There is no tolerance for you here.

And so I joined the hundreds of people, who out of love and support, went to lift the family up during this difficult time. We stood, surrounding the church, so that we would bear the hate slurs, the spitting, the obnoxious signs, rather than those trying to say goodbye to a son, friend, and student. We stood to show those in mourning that for every hateful soul, there are a hundred people with compassion in their hearts, ready to walk down the road of grief with them. Compassion and love won. I will not say any more about the Westboro Baptist Hate Group, other than they did not show up. Rumors, including word from a police officer, were spreading that they had been in the area, but left without sounding off at all. This was the best case scenario for us. The community was surrounded by nothing but love and solidarity.
The line of support for the victim's family went on as far as one could see

As ten o'clock neared and everyone in the crowd was suffering from frozen toes and shaky knees from the cold, the motorcade arrived. I was amongst a group of students who did not feel they were emotionally prepared to be inside the church, but wanted to pay their respects. Upon seeing the hearse, a young girl standing next to me burst out in tears. "I just don't know why!?" she sobbed. I put my hand gently on her back. "We're here with you." I softly said. The woman to her other side placed her hand next to mine "We're all here with you." She reiterated. The girl calmed and we hugged. She said "That was all I needed; I'm ready to go home now. I don't know who you are, but I love you for coming." We hugged again briefly and she broke away from the group, walking toward her home, still sobbing slightly.

And that is all that I can really say about today. As everyone finds a new normal, as parents regain the courage to say good bye to their children in the morning, as students battle the grief of losing friends, of being in a place where suddenly they were threatened, as we all find our footing on this path that has been laid out- Chardon, we are with you crying, and we are with you healing. We are all with you.

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