When Personal Anguish Intersects with Collective Trauma


Eight years ago today I was introduced to my daughter’s killer. Of course none of us knew it at the time. But an innocuous visit to the Emergency Room on a Summer Monday evening eventually proved to be deadly. By Thursday the killer’s name had finally been identified:  Stage 4 Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma. Still unaware of the dangerous threat to the life of my then 16-year-old curly haired blonde vibrant daughter, Claire, we moved forward with quickly beginning an intense and lengthy treatment in hopes of stopping this killer dead in its tracks. Refusing to Google statistics, I didn’t realize her chance of surviving another five years was a mere 5%. And as fate would have it, she only made it 20 months.

So every year since 2010 on June 21 (and sometimes days leading up to it) my body, my mind and my heart re-live that day and all the trauma that followed. Unless you have suffered the loss of a child, it is understandably difficult to imagine what it feels like. Even though my husband Dan was intimately involved and completely supportive during Claire’s illness and death, it wasn’t until he tragically lost his own son, Ben, two years later that he said to me, “I thought I understood, but I didn’t until now.” I responded by telling him I was so sorry that he understood.

So it is one thing to carry on in life while enduring personal tragedy. I have learned how to navigate my way through my private grief these last several years, able to focus on my own sadness while feeling relatively safe in my world. But things have changed recently. We now find ourselves in a different kind of world. One that feels more unsettled, darker and scarier. Maybe it has always been that way but my privilege has insulated me from the harsh realities that others more marginalized than myself have experienced on a daily basis. At any rate, I have had trouble finding words to describe how our nation’s shift toward uncertainty, divisiveness, anger and even hatred has added unfamiliar layers and dimensions to my grief. No longer do I feel safe in my world. No longer do I have a basic foundation of trust for our leaders because of the lies that are told every single day and the confusion produced by the frequent gas lighting. It doesn’t feel safe anymore to hold space for my personal grief when I have so much fear for the world around me.

The latest turn of events, however, has captured my heart in a dreadful way. The fact that those in power have chosen to act inhumanely by separating children, even infants, from their parents for trying to enter our borders is unconscionable. I am not saying there should be no vetting process for immigrants, but there are humane and decent ways of doing it. My own grandparents were immigrants. Those who are making these horrible decisions are only here because they have descended from immigrants. Regardless of anyone’s views on immigration policies, this has crossed a dangerous line. Permanent damage is being done to these developing children by removing their secure attachment figures at such a traumatic, transitional time in their lives. My heart is so broken over this. All I can think of is the pain I live with every single day having to live without my daughter. I would not wish that on my worst enemy. Cancer killed my child and took her away from me. I hate cancer for that. How in the world can another human purposefully decide to inflict pain on another like that? I do not understand. The world is watching and the world is weeping. And my personal grief is now magnified by thousands as I feel the pain of those parents and their children. I hope and pray that their separations will not be permanent like mine.








5 thoughts on “When Personal Anguish Intersects with Collective Trauma

  1. Thank you for putting into words EXACTLY how I’ve been feeling. I’m sick over what is happening. The state of our nation is a CANCER and it’s eating away at all of us little by little. After also losing my daughter to the beast, I cannot FATHOM someone taking my children from me PURPOSEFULLY. We need to find a CURE for this hate. My heart just breaks over and over again.


  2. Jane, I remember the night Claire’s dad walked into the theatre to tell me that she would not be able to be in the Rosetown show because she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I was dumbfounded, shocked but mostly terrified for her. Over the years I believe I have lost 6 students to death- not my own kids, but kids I cared deeply about and knew well. I remember each of them at different times in the year or in different situations. In many several cases I wish I had done something differently to help them.
    And you are right the world is a very scary place now and I can only hope that more and more people will start to see through the fear mongering and caustic rhetoric and stand up to the buffoons leading us down this path. Margot


    1. Thank you Margot. Theatre was one of the bright spots for Claire after her diagnosis even though she sadly had to drop out of the performances. Thank you for the role you played in her life at the middle school and Rosetown. Theatre provided Claire an opportunity to express herself in new, creative ways that superseded her shy nature. I’m sure you had an equally positive impact on your other students who passed but I understand your feelings of wishing you’d done things differently. I suppose hindsight is 20/20 however. Take care.


  3. I’m so sorry for your loss. And sorry to for all those separated from their children in the circumstances you describe.


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