Last night, our twin sons, graduating seniors, were leaving the house to go to a neighbor’s. As I often do, I warned them about driving, speeding, texting while driving, etc., and how if anything happened to one them of……well, one of the boys casually replied: “I’m not going to get into an accident.”
And I looked at him and said, “Do you know how stupid that sounds? No one plans to get into an accident. That’s why it’s called an accident.” We woke up the next morning to horrific news. Two boys from a neighboring high school, both seniors, both on the cusp of freedom and endless possibilities, perished in flames after a tragic car accident. The news was devastating–a sharp ripple through an idyllic community.
A mother’s heartbreak, a father’s nightmare. Families ripped apart at a time when dreams are taking shape. Students and friends crippled by profound emotions, the shock, the bitter truth that life is harsh, and being a teenager won’t protect you from life’s greatest threats. The irony of being on the cusp of adulthood, brimming with potential, is not lost on any of us, not as we watch from the sidelines as a nightmare unfurls.
The loss of a child is an affront to the natural order of things. It literally stops the world from spinning. And yet it occurs in neighborhoods all over the world and raw emotions seep through the shrapnel, woven through the endless loop of despair. I turned to Facebook and social media to share the grief I was feeling. A heavy heart for two families I don’t know, but which I understood could be any of us. When I came across the articles online, my heart stopped. These precious boys, gone only hours, had empowered the cold, the callous, and the mean-spirited. The comments were there. References to speeding and the expensive car they drove.
I wrote about this subject recently in my latest novel, Somebody’s Daughter. Though the subject matter was different and far less tragic—a young girl who found herself in the center of an online sex scandal—the aftermath was very much the same. Parents, peers, and strangers, self-proclaimed experts chimed in with their snide conclusions. Lack of discipline. Failure to establish consequences. Reckless behavior. Entitled. Bad parenting. Bad kids. It all seemed so nicely wrapped up, though circumstances are never that precise. To criticize families in mourning, for pointing fingers when someone has fallen, is just plain cruel.
According to any medical journal, the teenage brain is not fully developed. The years are marked with errors in judgment, mistakes, and the time to learn and grow from the experience. It has been said that senior year of high school with graduation, prom, and future possibilities is the most dangerous time in a teen’s life. Graduates have completed years of coursework, culminating in a college acceptance or admittance to the job of their dreams. They are limitless, powerful, and they’re riding high on their triumphant wave. They are on the cusp, adrenaline lining their decisions, with consequences buried in the back of their brains. The time is now. I’m invincible.
Nameless, faceless monsters trolling the internet do not get to rewrite the narrative. Hiding behind technology and a fake screen won’t work. Only sad, lonely people choose to prey upon the weaknesses of others, tarnishing the lives of strangers. As a mother, don’t you dare critique and categorize the love a parent has for a child, the life they created, nurtured, and would give up just about anything for. No one gets to decide. To mandate. To turn this horribly sad story into something it’s not.
This is about family. This is about a family that did the best they possibly could. A family that could’ve never seen the dark twist in the road before them, because I can assure you, anyone with children knows that when faced with something as ugly and painful as this, they’d do everything in their God- given power to prevent it.
So, if you want to blame or point fingers or preach on how you would have done it differently, there is no place for you in this story. The time now is for compassion. For sympathy. For kindness. A family is broken. You don’t get to judge. You don’t get to diminish precious lives or the depth of loss. Or the fear that trickles within the heart of every parent waiting for his or her child to come home safe. A community is shattered today. The crack is wide and deep and may take years, if ever, to heal. As a human being and a mother, I will comfort those stricken. I will defend their story, their actions—which could have been any one of our children’s actions—and I will hold them in my heart with a fierce love and protection.
Because that’s what it means to be a parent.
And that’s what it means to love a child.