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.