Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Trouble With Angels

I can tell you exactly where I was when Dale Earnhardt died during the 2001 Daytona 500. I was watching the race at my parents' house with my little brother (I can't believe that was twelve years ago!). I remember the shock when Earnhardt didn't climb out his window. I remember his son, who moments before finished second in the race, running back down the track to get to his dad. I remember Darrel Waltrip's excitement that his little brother, Michael, had finally won a Winston (or Nextel, I don't remember who was sponsoring) Cup race. I also remember him asking "Dale's okay, right?" and no one answering him.

The whole thing was some sort of bizarre Greek tragedy. The old champion struck down while the new champions (both Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt, Jr drove cars owned by Dale Earnhardt) on the track he'd battled his whole career. Honestly, I remember crying a little. It was so sad. Dale Earnhardt and my dad look alike. I'd just watched a man die while chilling with my little brother eating snacks and watching a race. It was sad.

It's not a bad thing that I cried. It's not even a bad thing I remember it so clearly. Things like the Newtown tragedy, 9/11, Columbine, Oklahoma City, Waco, the Challenger explosion...they become part of the warp and weave of our national tapestry. We all experienced them. They are a part of all of our shared experiences.

But we are not all mourners. We are not the ones primarily effected by the lives lost in each of these tragedies (unless someone reading this actually lost someone they knew and loved. In which case, my apologies and sympathies). And that's something I think occasionally gets lost.

I first thought of this when I read an interview with Dale Earnhardt Jr about how difficult it is for him (the man whose father died a few car lengths behind him) when people want to share how his dad's death effected them. How hard it was for him to heal when people constantly wanted to relive that moment with him.

I thought of this again when I read an article about the aftermath of Newtown in the New York Times Magazine. Several first responders to the scene were interviewed about how they are coping. It was mentioned that the boxes of teddy bears and thank you cards sent by well-wishers from across the country served as triggers.

So now is when I risk alienating some friends and readers. Many, many people (in both the real and blog world) wanted to do something. They wanted to reach out to the people of Newtown, to the grieving parents and first responders. Sometimes those instincts can lead good people to do hurtful things with the best possible intentions.

That leads me to the trouble with angels. OUR trouble with angels.

After Lila died people started giving us little ceramic angels. To remember her by, every single person who gave us one said.

To remember her by? Lila is our baby. For nine months she lived in my body. For the entirety of life she was with either J or me, except for when I had to have surgery and my mother kept her. I don't need ceramic angels to remember her by. Instead, they've become these slightly creepy reminders of the fact our child is dead. And what do I with them? How can I discard something bought in the memory of Lila, even if they freak me out and I have no idea what to do with them?

I see a lot of people who want to give the people of Newtown proverbial ceramic angels. I'm asking you to please reconsider. Everyone of the dead left behind parents, other family members, friends, classmates. If you aren't one of those people, please consider your actions carefully.

If you want to do something, donate to a charity the survivors have nominated. Don't nominate to a  charity the family might not support in a victim's name. But please remember you are not a primary, secondary, or tertiary mourner. These people didn't lose a feeling of safety or watch the happenings on television and cry about it. They buried their children. Or they experienced the day first hand, in Newtown.

Don't let your need to do something overtake the actual survivors need to grieve. And heal.


  1. very well written Tracie, thank you for sharing. :)

  2. Very, very true. Most times, people just feel so very helpless and don't know what to do - and I guess giving something seems like what we do in our society. A lot of us make missteps when someone that we care about loses a loved one. We don't know what to say or to do. It's really hard. That's a good idea about giving to charity in honor of those who are lost. I can't speak for the people who gave you the angels but I'm sure they wouldn't want you to have to have something around that makes you hurt more. They'll never know if you don't keep them.

    My Dad looks just like Richard Petty - though it's hard to say since Richard hasn't taken his sunglasses off for about the past thirty years.

  3. I think, on a conscious level, people mean well when they want to do things for people they hear about on the news, but I think it's a commentary on our society that people feel the need to take ownership of grief that really isn't theirs. I saw this time and again in the 30 years that I taught at the high school level. Sometimes the loudest and most melodramatic griever when a teenager was killed in a tragic accident wasn't the person's best friend. It was, instead, someone who liked the attention and consolation that public grieving got them. We've become a "Hey, look at me" society, with our blogs and our Facebook pages, and some of us don't like to share the limelight. That may sound like a cynical take on things, but I believe there's a good bit of truth to it.


Thanks for commenting (it makes me feel less like I am just over here, talking to myself!). Comments are approved as quickly as possible. Seriously, I am trying to teach Emily to approve comments.


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