I have always appreciated connections, family and friends alike.
After the death of my daughter, those connections became even more important. Sharing stories about her are cathartic and a means to keep her alive.
Her death was traumatic. While I cannot negate the loss of anyone, it is that much more devastating when it is the loss of a child. Her death was sudden and senseless. She was a single working mother and a victim of gun violence.
As a lifelong gun safety advocate, the shock of this event was unfathomable then as it is now, eleven years later.
Consequently, connections to her, the things she did, the foods she liked, her friends became even a part of me to keep her alive. In some ways, acknowledging these are comforting and meaningful, to laughing about her “quirks.”
Her name was “Susan.” We called her “Susie.” She grew up in Great Neck, New York where our family has now lived for almost fifty years.
Since her death, random connections which maybe termed “coincidences” have evolved. There are some people who believe that there are no coincidences, while others do not give credence to this notion. Personally, I will not swear to it not being a possibility. However, they have heightened my awareness that for some unexplainable reason she is guiding me.
The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “It really boils down to this: that life is interrelated. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one destiny; affects all indirectly.”
Further, the Dalai Lama XIV said, “Our ancient experience confirms at every point that everything is linked together, everything is inseparable.”
Two different instances arose to make me think that an “unknown force” might be at work to maintain my connection to my daughter and in the process to help others who might have similarly suffered.
The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown Connecticut occurred four years after my daughter’s murder and both in December.
The media was flooded with news of that Friday morning massacre. Among
those interviewed was a the Newtown Rabbi Shaul Praver whose compassion and wisdom was most impressive.
I called the Rabbi’s synagogue the following Monday morning to offer my help as a mother and a survivor. I was immediately connected to his assistant who introduced herself as Susan. That gave me pause to think, a coincidence?
I explained the reason for my call but realized that the Rabbi must be preoccupied. She took my contact information and said, “the Rabbi will call you.”
The following day, I learned Rabbi Praver also grew up in Great Neck, graduated from the same high school as my daughter and in the same class.
I immediately called the Rabbi again. Surprisingly, he answered the phone. “I said, “my name is Lois Schaffer.”
“I know who you are,” he said, and added, “I’ve said many prayers for Susie.”
In September, 2015 the young, brilliant attorney, Carey Gabay, a legal assistant to Governor Andrew Cuomo was caught in the crossfire of a rival gang’s shootout during the J’Ouvert Caribbean celebration.
As a survivor of gun violence, I tried to connect with his family to offer any help I could give after reading about this young man’s illustrious career. He grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood but studied hard and managed to be accepted to Harvard and Harvard Law School.
I was not successful in making any connection, then.
The following May I participated in the yearly gun safety rally and walk across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Thousands of people attend that march. The feeling of purpose and camaraderie prevails throughout the march. People who do not know one another suddenly form a connection….
There are those who are survivors….others who are not….but are all connected for the same purpose….to rid our country of the easy accessibility of guns and senseless deaths.
I happened to strike up a conversation with a woman walking next to me. In the course of our conversation, I learned her name: Trenelle Gabay….Carey’s young widow.
Rabbi Praver and Trenelle Gabay have taken their tragic experiences to counteract the violence they have suffered. The Rabbi has counseled others on gun violence, the healing process, has become legislatively and politically involved and has written a book and many articles about reducing gun violence.
Trenelle created a foundation in support of other children, like her husband’s who came from disadvantaged circumstances.
My bottom line is to ask whether meeting Rabbi Praver and Trenelle was pure coincidence or could there be some unknown force, a guiding spirit or Susie that brought us together because of our similar tragedies.
That is for you, the reader to decide.
One thing I do know is that these connections or “coincidences” have enriched my life.
Albert Einstein said, “Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”