…our grandson Noah was gunned down inside his classroom together with nineteen of his classmates and his substitute teacher. He had barely turned six.
Gun violence has claimed so many victims since that terrible Friday that I sometimes feel embarrassed calling attention back to our own loss. Have you seen the story of this woman who lost three of her children? I started reading it but I couldn’t go on. My grief seemed like an indulgence compared to hers.
After Noah was killed, I became acutely aware of the passage of time. As the days, the weeks, the months went by and piled up, it felt as if we were being swept away by a powerful river while he remained on shore, shrinking by the minute until I feared he would disappear. For the longest time I couldn’t sleep at night as if by remaining awake I could hold on to the days when he was still among us.
But the days have piled up and Noah has shown no sign of receding into the abyss. In fact I spend time with him every day.
In my mind he is both still a six-year old and a pre-teen. I can’t quite picture the way he would look now but I know he has grown. He was a gorgeous child and he would certainly be a handsome young boy today. But there is only so far I can go in trying to imagine him at twelve before my heart breaks. So cruel and so unfair that he wasn’t allowed to grow up.
Still he is never far away.
A few years ago on our first Christmas Eve in California a yellow bird landed in the bushes near the house. I was coming back from getting the mail or the paper when I saw it. I took out my phone and slowly came closer and closer. It didn’t move. Just sat there and stared directly at me. And there was something so peaceful in the way it held itself that I felt suddenly comforted. Even happy. As if a message had been sent and received.
A couple of winters later I saw the same exact bird in a local gift shop. Made of felted wool, it was sold as a Christmas ornament. I bought it. It now sits on a shelf in my kitchen and I see it everyday as I cook and bake. It isn’t much. But it is a link. If only to the memory of a moment when I acutely felt Noah’s spirit and presence. On a Christmas Eve too.
Sure, you might say Noah has become an imaginary grandchild. And I am his imaginary grandma.
Except that Noah did exist. Every time someone asks me how many grandkids we have, I choke up inside. It hurts to say “eight” instead of “nine.” But if I say “nine,” I have to account for them and explain what happened. And it isn’t a story made for small talk with strangers.
There was nothing imaginary about Noah. And six years after I last saw him alive, the glimpse of a little boy with a full head of dark hair at the market or in an airport is still enough to make my heart drop precipitously. A bit like your stomach drops when your plane hits a turbulence. When that happens, all the protective layers built around his death fall away. And the pain is revealed, raw and naked.
There is nothing imaginary about that pain.
I haven’t experienced all of the stages of grief everyone kept telling me about: shock, yes; denial, yes; anger, yes (not so much at the murderer whom I hardly think about but at a culture which normalizes guns and gun violence and at the elected officials who protect this culture whatever the human cost). But that’s it.
No depression (sadness, yes, but that is very different); no bargaining (there is nothing left to bargain for); no acceptance. Definitely no acceptance.
I may be deluding myself about the survival of Noah’s spirit. Or I may not.
I know for a fact love has survived. I grant you it may be all that’s keeping him alive. Or it may not.
The result is the same. I am his grandma. And I love him.
Tonight I will light a candle and place it in the window. In memory of Noah and all the ones whom we lost to cold-blooded murder on December 14, 2012.
It would be a small comfort to know that you are doing the same across the country and around the world. Tiny dots of light against darkness.
Elana A says
I came to your blog this morning to read this post. I’m not a regular reader, but I wanted to let you know that I deliberately came here today to read this because Noah and his classmates, and you, did family (but, Noah more than anyone else) are often on my mind. Six years later, I – a total stranger – still think of him and what happened. He is missed, even though I didn’t meet him. It’s an odd thing to feel, but it’s true!
Sometimes I take my kids to volunteer or do something charitable for another person. I think about Noah at those times, because his death made me become much more intentional about the way I want to live my life. So please know that he’s inspired a lot of good in the world.
Thinking of you.
Thank you Elena. It is a comfort to know that Noah has become a point of light in a way, or at least a little light to follow in the darkness. It means a lot to me that his life should still have meaning.
Avis R Fletcher says
Will never forget.
Thank you Ari!
Noah is still very much a part of the world, having an impact through all of you who loved him so, and through those who didn’t but have been moved to action because of him. Keep him close in your heart, and know that he is not forgotten.
Thank you so much Shari. I am so glad you too feel that Noah’s spirit survived somehow.
Karin Anderson says
Whenever German friends ask me about America’s “holy cow” (aka guns), I think of you and Noah.
In West Germany we used to put a candle in the window at Christmas as a sign that we would never forget our East German relatives.
I will gladly light one for this spark of hope.
Thank you Karin! It means a lot to me that you remembered and lit a candle as a symbol of hope.
Tia Ingle says
Dear Farine never ever be embarrassed talking about your grandson. You have a right to remember him and he has a right to be remembered. I am a total stranger to you as well but I remember when it all happened and think about you and Noah every time there is a report on new gun violence. I believe that it is important to keep his spirit and memory alive and hopefully it also acts as a reminder to those who are saner in our society that such acts are vile and should never be condoned. If they are swept under the carpet then nothing can be learned in the passage of time. Noah your grandson may not be physically with us anymore but his soul and spirit is and touches all of us around the world and it is your right to keep his memory alive lest we forget. Tia x
Thank you, Tia. I will do my best to keep his memory alive. You can be sure of that. It is all I can do for him right now, isn’t it? And I do believe his spirit has survived.
Janice Heins says
Noah is often in my thoughts. I will light that candle tonight and Noah will continue to remain close to my heart.
Thank you Janice. It is a comfort to know that you care and remember.
It is a sad thing to know that I come to this site each year on this day to let it you know that I am thinking of Noah and the others. Once again, your words are both beautiful and heartbreaking. I cried in the shower this morning for a boy I did not know. I just lit a candle for Noah and the others. Thinking of your family on this difficult day.
Thank you for lighting a candle on this darkest day. And thank you for remembering to come back every year.
My candle has been lit and shines in hope that someday…….
For tonight I embrace his memory and how he has entered into my life all thanks due to you and what you have shared here.
Thank you, Janet. I see your candle with the eyes of my heart and it shines brightly.
Elvire Haller says
Votre message m’a profondément bouleversée. La tristesse est sans fin.
Merci Elvire. Et oui, hélas, ça n’aura pas de fin…
The photo you took in Paris expresses too well the intensity of your pain, and the pain of every single person who lost a loved one in Newtown or to gun violence in the countless other examples in this crazy country we live in
I will never forget that day, and the message you exchanged with me a few hours later – when I think about it, I feel sick, nauseated, and impotent. frustrated, angry.
No family, no parent, no grandparent, no sibling, no friend, no teacher, no one should have to go through what you all go through, day in, day out.
Mark Primmer says
20 years ago or more the son of the owner of Mikado restaurant in Edmonton fell through ice and was swept away under the ice. What I remember and everyone in Edmonton who was there at that time remembers was that the boy’s father was out there every day searching for his son’s body. The search lasted a long time, weeks, and every day Edmontonians saw something profoundly moving, a father’s grief that could not be assuaged until he held his son’s body. 10 years later that Japanese father was one of my customers.
There is no statute of limitations on grief. Especially over the loss of a child. It remains with you every minute of your life. What a terrible story…
It is one year since this post, I cry every year after Sandy Hook and have a light burning in my window tonight in Florida for Noah. My daughter, is currently six years old and in first grade. I mourned for Noah and his classmates 7 years ago and I mourn even more deeply now. I am sure Noah and my daughter would have been friends, gotten silly together, made jokes and laughed. I am going to appreciate every laugh I have with her and fight my damndest for gun legislation in this country.