An Open Letter to My Boys

An Open Letter to My Sons (To Be Read When You Are Much Older)

December 14, 2011

I woke up at 6:43 am. I took note, as I seem to wake up at the same time almost every day. Strange, don’t you think? I’ve been trying to remember what I thought at that moment. I’m pretty sure it was “Not this again.” I’d been feeling sorry for myself because I’ve been sick for about a month and was tired of waking up feeling bad. I would put this in perspective later, of course. I didn’t know at that very moment, a killing spree had begun that would alter so many lives for years to come.

I’m writing this to you because, on this day, a horrible, sick man took 20 young souls from their loved ones way too soon, and eight adult heroes whose job it was to guard these young ones. It’s made me think…a lot. I remember my brother telling me that when he had his first child, it was both the best and most terrifying moment of his life — best for obvious reasons. Terrifying because he felt like he was exposing him to this unsafe place, and felt compelled to walk him through this life holding his hand. As we all know, we can’t do this. My nephew was born shortly after 9/11, so I think we we are all feeling unsafe in general. It’s like you have this exposed nerve but no bandage to cover it. It will forever be out in the open for all the elements and unsafe things despite our strongest urges to keep it safe forever. I’m sure the parents from Sandy Hook Elementary felt these urges, too.

The hardest part for those on the outside when something like this happens is putting yourself in those parents’ shoes. Yet you feel you must in order to feel true compassion. True empathy. In doing so, I took time to picture it yesterday, and the pain was unbelievable. I think I would go home and smell every item of your clothing. Eat your leftover cereal from the bowl in the sink. Lie in your bed. I’d want to drink you in for as long as I could, as they won’t have let me see your body. Then I’ll be really, really angry. Homicidal, to be perfectly honest. Of course, there will be no one to kill, as he took the coward’s way out, leaving us to forever wonder why. We know in our hearts we will never truly know. As Dr. Sanjay Gupta said, it could very well be “unknowable.” Would I want to forget you eventually, lest the pain literally tear me from the inside out, rendering me unable to take care of my living child? If I could erase you from my mind like they did in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, would I do it? I know I wouldn’t because then I would lose you forever. I’d rather feel the searing pain than forget you all together.

I’d wonder if you were in heaven, which is especially hard to picture after witnessing evil firsthand. I’d try to think of the times I’d seen God. When you were born. When you took your first steps. When I’ve seen a baby hummingbird. A whale breaching the ocean’s surface. A rainbow. He is everywhere, and yet I’d wonder — where was He on December 14? They say He always has a plan and works in mysterious ways, but I know I’d have some harsh words for Him. It might be a while before I’d pray.

What if I was one of the parents whose child survived? I’d consider myself lucky, right? Then why does it hurt so much? Why do I feel such guilt? Will I ever be able to look the parents who lost a child that day in the face again? And what will I say when I notice you crossed out “transformer” on your Christmas list and replaced it  with “I want my best friend back”? What do I do and say when you wake up with nightmares, or I do, or we all do and gather in the family room, keeping each other company as the zombies we’ve become? How do we heal?

Of course, it’s impossible not to think of the last moments. The seemingly mundane things that happen every day. As I saw on Facebook yesterday, it’s not hard to imagine that each of those kids went in search of their elves on the shelves before leaving for school, ensuring they behave so Santa will bring them something special. It’s only 11 days away from Christmas, after all. Maybe I would have put a note in your lunchbox. Or maybe I was grumpy and barely said “goodbye” as I hurriedly went about my chores. It’s okay, as I’ll kiss you when you get home. You’d be in the Christmas cards I’d just sent out, and have unwrapped presents under the tree.

What about the killer who, as President Obama said, cut so many promising lives short? One of my favorite shows is Dexter. Maybe it’s wrong, but I like watching a vigilante go around, giving horrible people what they deserve. But how do we go on when there is no justice — only so much loss and so much pain, for so many people, for so many years to come? What did he think when he entered the school? Did he have even a single moment of regret? I remember when I did my practicum and internship in the schools, and I loved the way they smelled. Who knows why, but kids smell so good. So sweet. And the school is filled with that scent. Did he catch the scent and even hesitate for one moment about the fact that he was about to ruin so many lives? It sure didn’t seem like it.

I can’t help but think about the fact that it’s not just those 28 souls who suffered at the hands of evil. But those who were left behind and were scarred in a way that is unimaginable. The parents who long for just one more kiss. One more hug. The policemen who had to step over little bodies. The janitor who ran around warning everyone with a scream. Those who were at the firehouse, witnessing parents being told they weren’t one of the “lucky ones.”

I heard a newswoman comment on President Obama’s speech and how, unlike other instances like this, he didn’t even try to look for the silver lining. He didn’t point out who the heroes were. He didn’t say we’d do better in the future. He just mourned, because that’s all any of us can do.

I hope and I pray I can shield you from such horror. I will always try.

President Obama

*Photo Courtesy of


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  1. Michele says:

    I posted this yesterday originally as a response on how to talk to your kids about things like this:
    “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers
    Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.

  2. Carol says:

    Marnie, thank you for this beautifully written reflection. Yes, please kiss & hug those kids for us. I’m proud of you

  3. Ned says:

    Marnie, as difficult as it was to write, that is a great message and insight and thoughts for your boys and all boys and girls and parents. There is no good that can come of this. And there will be no real movement toward more control of guns. Not everyone should have a gun.

    If more control can prevent another massacre, it will be worth it, even though we will never know. I pray for that!




  4. Nicole Pesce says:

    Marnie, WOW.

    I’m so moved by your open letter to your boys. As a mother too, I could have written the same letter to my children (if I had your talent). I have been feeling the same searing pain imagining those surviving parents. They will be damaged beyond repair for the rest of their lives.

    There are so many questions swirling around in everyone’s head… the biggest one is Why??? And I think there are so many potential answers: real mental health issues along with being left by his Dad and brother, lonelinesss, isolation, all the while playing insanely violent video games because he had no job, no future, perhaps no purpose. My hope is we tune into all these potential things that go into the equation of Why??? to do better for all children and parents of now and the future.

    Thank you for writing this!

  5. Nicole Pesce says:

    Oh yeah, I left out one of the biggest potential answers to WHY???: having access to assault weapons. I so agree with you Marnie that we need to take action to change this.

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