I am Gabrielle Eileen’s mother. She is my only child.
Gabrielle was a bright and vivacious little 7-year-old in June 2017. She created a visual countdown to the end of the school year and would rip off the number each day as the school days remaining diminished.
She was looking forward to turning 8 and looking forward to her summer vacation.
She did not live to see either.
This country has a sleepwalk ritual whenever we experience a mass shooting. Outrage. Partisan finger pointing. Candlelight vigils. Momentary tributes splashed across televisions and social media. Hashtags. And because it is no longer an anomaly, the news cycle ends. We promise not to forget, but ribbons fall from chests to dirt. Funerals come and go. America moves on.
But some of us never have the luxury to move on. Some of us are left behind, with our children who will not age. We are forever frozen in time with the horrific phone call, news report, crime scene. We grasp pictures, whose captured moments sit like memorials on walls and cellphone wallpaper.
We have a name for people who lose a spouse, but what about those of us who have our babies ripped away? Childless parents? We are the families with empty chairs that will never be filled.
To the latest members of a club no one wants to join, the victims of senseless violence against our children in Texas, I see you. I hear you. I know you. I am you.
While my daughter died violently at the hands of her father and not a stranger, I, too, lived the unimaginable. I, too, heard the loud cries and quiet whispers of “This doesn’t happen here” and “There are no words.” I, too, rushed to a crime scene with onlookers and police tape and sirens. I, too, struggled to breathe and wondered how my child could be gone while I remained.
Yet I remain. Yet I was somehow asked by God to keep walking this earth while my baby danced among the angels.
We know some children by name, like Trayvon or Tamir. We know some by towns, like Sandy Hook or Parkland…and now Uvalde.
But behind each child and town is a mother…is a father…sometimes siblings….those of us who are left with jagged shards of a puzzle that no longer fits together. As the world moves on, you are stuck with the birthdays, the holidays, the graduations that will never happen, and the painful flashbacks when senseless violence against our children strikes America. Again.
I cannot promise you that it will be easy…today or ever. I cannot promise that you will ever stop trying to violently wake up from this nightmare. But I can promise you that you are still here. And because you are still here, you will survive…despite yourself.
There is no playbook. There is no step-by-step guide for healing. I will not insult you with stages of grief or promises of “closure.” I will tell you that somehow your heart, over time, can expand to incorporate not just this burning loss that feels too big to contain but also new hope, new joy, and new love.
You may find purpose in your pain. This past weekend, I was asked to conduct a workshop on healing at the Trayvon Martin Foundation’s Circle of Mothers conference. One hundred women from various backgrounds and walks of life with one thing in common—the violent loss of a child. I shared my story. I listened to theirs. I walked alongside a table filled, beyond reason, with candles and pictures of our babies in memoriam. Your story matters. Your child’s life matters. What you do with the time you have left matters. No one can take that away from you.
Like the women I met this weekend, all part of our dreaded club, you may burn with the need to make sure your child’s life will not be forgotten. Right now, your tears may not allow that fire to ignite, but until then, know that we are fighting for you and for them—our children who were taken by violence and all the ones still here whom we need to protect from it.
So I mourn with you. I send this as a love letter wrapped in hope and peace. I pray for you. I celebrate your children. I look for the day when you can imagine a new horizon. We belong to a small but unjustly growing club. Let’s ensure our children’s memories and lives are not taken for granted. Let’s make sure we use our lives in tribute to say boldly that our baby’s lives were not in vain. Stand against violence in whatever way you can. I am standing beside you, and our angels are cheering us on.
Michelle D. Hord is a creative storyteller and media executive. Her heart belongs to Gabrielle’s Wings, a nonprofit fund in her daughter’s memory to empower children to soar. Her book, The Other Side of Yet: Finding Light in the Midst of Darkness, was published on March 15.
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