Living With Ambiguity

The older I get, the more that I realize how quickly and drastically life can change. There are some events that defy logic, and despite our best efforts to try to make sense of them,  many unanswered questions will remain. I have learned in the almost ten years since the death of my own child to live with some unanswered questions, some ambiguity. I believe that as long as I do my best to find meaning and significance  in a world that has permanently changed and  can help others in the process, I can live with some unanswered questions.

Sandy Hook: A Return to the Land of Why

O’ beautiful, for spacious skies
But now those skies are threatening… 

Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence 

From the song “The End of the Innocence by Don Henley

On Friday, December 14, 2012, 26 people, 20 of whom were students between the ages of 6 and 7 were brutally gunned down at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Innocence died on that day, along with those children and educators.  Like everyone across our country and the world, I was profoundly affected by this tragedy.

Like any parent who has experienced the death of a child, I have developed instant empathy for any parent who has become a member of a club; none of us ever envisioned being a part of at any time during our lives. Consequently, the raw emotional pain that I experienced after my daughter Jeannine died in 2003 resurfaced and remained for several days after Sandy Hook.

I also questioned why these beautiful and unconditionally loving children and the adults who were charged with educating and nurturing them had to die so tragically. I didn’t stay in that place for long because I asked a lot of why questions after my daughter died. I never got an answer that satisfied me. The only resolution that would have been acceptable for me was for God to appear and tell me and my family that He had made a mistake, that He was returning Jeannine to us and that life as we knew it would be restored. Once I finally realized that that was not going to happen, I stopped asking the why questions. I then chose to focus on “Where do I go from here?”

The Need For Names

I spent a significant amount of time Friday and Saturday watching the news coverage surrounding the Sandy Hook victims. I wasn’t concerned about the psychological profile of the shooter or the discussions about the need for more stringent gun control laws.  I was more concerned with the families of the victims and the impact of the shootings on the community of Newtown. I also felt the need to watch the news coverage until the names of the victims were released. I know how significant it was for me to hear Jeannine’s name after she died. I wanted to be able to mention the first name of each of the victims of this tragedy in prayer. This would be my way to honor them and their families.

A Different Perspective

The Sandy Hook shootings have been one in a series of other mass murders that have seemed to occur with alarming regularity in our country over the last few years. Aurora, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona immediately come to mind. As I mentioned previously, the current gun control laws were scrutinized intensely by the media and many experts weighed in on the issue.

From my perspective, it is not just an issue of gun control.  For one thing, more resources for mental health treatment needs to be allocated. As an addiction professional who worked in the field for 27 years, there were always more chemically dependent and mentally ill clients that needed treatment, and fewer resources to serve them. The mantra was always “do more with less.” Frankly, I could never figure out how to accomplish that without compromising the quality of treatment.  Our existing gun control laws and our mental health system are just two of the components that need to be examined.

President Obama remarked (and I am paraphrasing) at the interfaith vigil service in Newtown, that mental health professionals, parents and law enforcement need to come together to address the issue of violence in our country.

Politics aside, I agree with his observations.

What we have done to date hasn’t worked.

We need to be proactive, not reactive.

Our entire society needs to be a part of the solution.

We cannot address ways to create a less violent environment for our children in a vacuum.

Closing Thoughts

Finally, it is my hope that the support and resources that are being offered to the Newtown community are available for the long term. I also believe that the families of the victims and the community need to empower themselves to determine when and how they avail themselves of that support and whom they choose to have support them.

From my perspective, the death of my child was the most disempowering event of my life.  In retrospect, determining whether I needed to sit with my grief or ask for support from those with whom I was comfortable, helped me to take some power back in the early aftermath of Jeannine’s death. The right for us to self determine what we need and how we will meet those needs empowers us in both the best of times and worst of times.

The victims’ families will be on a lifelong journey of grief. For the siblings, grief for their deceased brothers and sisters will recapitulate throughout the life cycle. They will also be grieving for classmates who died as well as their teachers. The surviving teachers will grieve for colleagues lost and students who touched their lives and whose lives they touched. There will be many layers of lifetime grief to navigate.

The families’ ongoing connections to their deceased loved have been supported by the residents of that close knit community of Newtown, and will from my perspective continue to be supported for the long-term. This will not only allow the surviving family members to engage in the transformative process of grief, but will allow the entire community to do so as well.


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David Roberts

David J. Roberts, LMSW, became a parent who experienced the death of a child, when his daughter Jeannine died of cancer on 3/1/03 at the age of 18. He is a retired addiction professional and an adjunct professor in the psychology and psychology child-life departments at Utica University in Utica, New York. Dave is a featured speaker, workshop facilitator and coach for Aspire Place, LLC. Dave has also been a past national workshop facilitator for The Compassionate Friends and a past national workshop facilitator and keynote speaker for The Bereaved Parents of the USA. Dave also co-presented a workshop titled “Helping Faculty After Traumatic Loss” for the Parkland, Florida community in May of 2018,in the aftermath of the mass shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School. Dave was also a keynote speaker at The Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Remembrance Weekend during in June of 2019 in Ponte Vedra, Florida .Dave has also done numerous workshops at the local and regional levels related to transformation from grief and loss. He is the co-author with Reverend Patty Furino of the recently published book "When The Psychology Professor Met The Minister" which is available for purchase on Amazon. For more information about their book,please go to: Dave has been a past HuffPost contributor and has also published articles with the Open to Hope Foundation, The Grief Toolbox, Recovering the Self Journal, Mindfulness and Grief, and Thrive Global. He is currently a regular contributor to Medium. One of Dave's articles, My Daughter is Never Far Away, can also be found in Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories of Healing and Loss. Excerpts from Dave's article for The Open to Hope Foundation, called The Broken Places were featured in the Paraclete Press DVD video, Grieving the Sudden Death of a Loved One. He has appeared on numerous radio and internet broadcasts and Open to Hope Television. Dave was also part of a panel in 2016 for the BBC Podcast, World Have Your Say, with other grief experts, discussing the death of Carrie Fisher. Dave’s website: is devoted to providing support and resources for individuals experiencing loss.

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