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For the Love of Stephen Kazmierczak’s Parent

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As the parent of two children now in college and one not far behind, I feel more grief than I care to say for the families of those who were killed in the Northern Illinois University shooting. I feel equally overwhelmed for the shooter, Stephen Kazmierczak, because I know in my heart that there but for the grace of God goes one of my children. My heart sinks heaviest for Stephen’s father, Robert, because I know in my heart that there but for the grace of God go I.

In my quest to raise the strongest, brightest, and most emotionally capable children, I have spent the better part of the last 23 years studying child development and child psychology, researching and trying out different parenting techniques, and struggling to understand and meet the needs of my children as they’ve passed through the different phases of their lives.

For a parent, success is almost always seen in hindsight because we rarely know if what we’re doing at any given moment is the right thing – even as we insist, and may well know, it is our best. Tragically, sometimes even our best is simply not good enough.

From the crib to the playground to high school pep rallies to the birth of their children’s children, parents are dogged or credited with the aftermath of their every decision and action taken – or not taken. Regret doesn’t begin to describe how it feels to look back and see what we’ve done wrong. Relief often outweighs joy when we realize we did it right.

Then there is the awkward, awful, foreboding feeling that comes with knowing there is only so much the parent of a grown child can do – and still, there is what the child did, there is a child injured or gone, there is a parent held liable.

Society’s yardstick measures from the outside, and the pain of that assessment is but a fraction of what the parent experiences when looking into the mirror, reflecting back on that child’s life and the parent’s part in it. There are the failures – real or imagined – the successes now tainted, and all that comprises the heaviest burden that is loving one’s child unconditionally. The loss of one’s child, no matter the reason, is too great; the grief is simply inconsolable. When mom or dad thinks they had any part in it, the grief is unstoppable.

There is nothing new to be learned from this or any other school shooting. There are only the same, apparently valueless (according to society) lessons we’ve yet to validate and actively apply to every parent and child in need. Once again, Harry Chapin’s 1972 “Sniper” has cried out from the distant past – “Am I?” – and once again we’ve failed to answer in time – for him, for his father, for those he killed, for any of us. It could even be argued that we’ve even gone so far as to recreate – and re-ignore – Chapin’s 1975 beaten-down war veteran, “Bummer.”

With Kazmierczak’s final act, another part of all of us has died – violently and completely. I can’t begin to express my regret.

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About Diana Hartman

Diana is a USMC (ret.) spouse, mother of three and a Wichita, Kansas native. She is back in the United States after 10 years in Germany. She is a contributing author to Holiday Writes. She hates liver & motivational speakers. She loves science & naps.
  • Ania

    Dear Diana – You are so right, so right, thank you for your opinion. I am 50 something year old mother of one son, 26 year old. I cry today when thinking about those young people killed senseless. I cry for the killer, young, smart man. What happened ? So many questions. I do feel deeply for Stephen`s father. How heavy is his load ? I can`t imagine.
    I can`t imagine myself as a parent of killed child nor parent of the killer. How can I ? It is impossible.
    I do pray for all of them.

  • Rich

    I just saw his father on Fox News and I felt so bad for him, he was devastated. Apparently he lost his wife not long ago and now this. Something about the poor man just touched me deeply. He pleaded with reporters to leave him alone because he had nothing to say and he was diabetic and didn’t want to go into a relapse. I can’t imagine the pain this man is going through right now. My prayers are with him.

  • Ike Warren

    Sometimes you do your best and are baffled at the way your child turns out. This poor guy may have done his best only to have it turn out this way. They should leave him alone. What he is dealing with and the guilt and sorrow he has on him is more than anyone should have to bear.

  • PACK

    As mother of six two of which have bi polar disorder I agree with your comments. If mine go off their meds they become erratic and confused. Anything is possible at that point. I am so sad for “all” who lost their children.
    We just do the best we can and have to understand that some things are in fact beyond our control.
    We do the best we can and some things we can’t understand or even grasp the horrific reality of it all. I imagine all the parents involved are still in shock and disbelief. I send them healing energy and love. That’s all we can do.
    Thanks for our article.

  • Will

    Which priest at Queen of the Rosary Catholic Church, Elk Grove Village, IL, molested Stephen P. Kazmierczak while he was an altarboy there? He needs to be charged with Kazmierczak’s crimes.

  • Niu mom

    I am the parent of one graduate and one attending NIU and she was on campus at the time of the shooting. I have never been so frightened as I was when the story ran accross the the TV screen and she had not yet been able to contact me.I was blind with fear. I cannot begin to express feeling for all the families who lost their beautiful children or those who will carry the scars of this day for the rest of their lives. I am married 26 years to a police officer and I am trained in Human Service and volunteer on mental health boards. Saying this I feel very badly for stevens family. Our laws have precluded him from making choices for a son who cannot function in society without his medication. Yet we expect Steven to take it on his own. This is not a new problem and I disagree that this tradegy hasn’t taught us anything new. This tradegy and steven kazmierczak have opened the door to the real plight of mental illness. The mentally ill homeless man in the park and the award winning student suffer from the same disease.I suggest that the treatment is manditory medication schedules. If a person with severe mental illness cannot care for himself regardless of his outward appearance then we must look to system to protect the rest of society. Unlike Ronald Reagan I do not support dumping mentally ill people onto the streets and allowing the general population to absorb them. They have special needs and special disabilitys. They certainly can and do function at or above “normal” when they recieve and utilize their medication. Steven’s previous success is a look at how medication and support encouraged steven to do well. The great issue here is that this requires a patient who self monitors or supervision of medication by someone else.When you consider that average people who require medication for blood preasure or diabetes often don’t monitor these conditions as they should and take meds only 50% of the time aren’t we being rather glib with mental illness? The parent cannot control the outcome as legally they are adults and the parent loses all control. I believe in the rights of the mentally disabled to live and move about in society 99% of the time. I disagree that steve did not show signs of stress to the people around him. They knew he was off his meds and they report his behavior as irratic. They were powerless.This where steven fell through the hole in the system. This is what has to be addressed and not by the prision system. Not by more grieving familys.

  • Sandra S. Beltran

    Thank you for your article, Diana Hartman. I find the responses have been deeply thoughtful. I’d like to recommend “Crazy: A Father’s Search Through America’s Mental Health Madness”, by Pete Earley.

    As a person with bipolar myself, and someone who works with the court system, it seems that the problem boils down to two principal points.

    1. Should we lock patients inside dungeon-like hospitals, or throw them out on the streets with a few meds to fend for themselves?

    Historically, neither option has worked.

    2. Shall we fund more jails and psychiatric hospitals?

    No. < We must firmly petition our legislators to fully fund and staff community clinics, and to set up sufficient clinics per population. >

    But how will we keep patients going to their community clinics regularly?

    There is a national movement. A new kind of paraprofessional has appeared: The Peer Specialist. A Peer Specialist is a person who has been there and deals so well with their own illness that they are ripe to help others.

    Peer Specialists take a three-day intensive, all-day course that includes tools for managing everyday triggers and difficulties; and a taste of cognitive behavioral therapy where they learn to control their usual thoughts. They are then eligible to take a five-day course and become Certified Peer Specialists.

    Certified Peer Specialists can have many roles. One very interesting role revolves around the jailed mentally ill. When an ill inmate gets out of jail, the Specialist will accompany the “consumer” to an assisted living facility, home, or homeless shelter. They go along with them to see the psychiatrist and then fill the prescriptions. They come by or call every day to make sure the consumer has taken their meds. They get the consumer to support group or day program. They call the consumer to see if they are feeling signs of a recurrence or relapse, or need to talk.

    By keeping consumers loyal to their treatment, they are much, much less likely to relapse. By remaining stable they can avoid going back to jail. This is how we stop the infernal revolving door.

    These are exciting times. We are finally starting a national dialog, grass-roots and government organizations are advocating and educating the public, medications are getting better, and the study of genetics holds exciting promise of treatments tailored to the consumer.

  • Student

    I feel deeply sorry for Steve’s father but there is no excuse for what Steve did because I work at mental illness institution for almost 5 years. If mental illness person who took medication off then she/he is more likely to do something terrible. If she/he stays on the medication then everything is under the control. Very simple.