18 months later

Tom reflects on some experiences from the past 18 months.

Below are some of my thoughts and reflections about my experiences from the past year and a half. I meant to complete this reflection by the one year anniversary of the tragedy, but I couldn't bring myself to it until just recently (early October).

There are many sad experiences I could share about our grieving, our loss, and our pain, but I won't share much of that here. Everybody knows we have those kinds of feelings and experiences, so why dwell on them? Besides, I'm sure there are many people who really don't want to hear about those sad stories, and that's understandable. Some sad experiences may come through here, but I've tried to minimize them.

So how are you doing?

That's what everyone wants to know. There's no simple answer, other than, "Compared to
what?" Or, "How should I be doing at this point?" Sometimes it's just easier to just say "okay," rather than explain the mix of emotions.

As someone shared with me recently, there are at least three different ways someone can ask "So how are you doing?" --each with different intents.

· There are those who ask it in a quick monotone, usually intended to extract from me a "Oh, I'm doing well," allowing the conversation to quickly move on to something else.

· There are those whose overly dramatic "So how ARRRRE you?" seems to assume the worst and disallows any positive response.

· Then, there are the sincere ones, those who will accept an honest response. I thank God for those ones.

At times I feel that there are those who have too high a desire to hear that "everything's just great." Sorry, but I can't hurry my healing just so that others can feel better. And it's awful to hear people imply, "Why don't you just get
OVER it? You need to move on!" Sorry, but if you LOVE your child, you don't just "get over it" or "move on." No, I'm not "over it" or healed. But neither am I wallowing in deep sorrow every day.

The fact is that I'm doing okay and moving along in my healing and grieving processes. I can laugh and have a good time, without feeling that somehow that dishonors Daniel. On the other hand, there have been times I haven't wanted to go to someone's party or gathering, simply because I'm concerned I'd not be "up" enough or that my presence might be a "downer" to others. And sometimes I have trouble concentrating, and some days I just don't feel like getting out of bed. But those days are decreasing in number.

One challenge to grieving is that you encounter people who simply don't know what to say to you. (I can't be too critical; I don't think I would have been the most sympathetic towards others in grief before this happened to me.) In some cases they say nothing at all, not even expressing a word of sympathy or recognition of what happened. At some point it becomes too difficult to even consider them any longer a friend or acquaintance. This has happened to us with at least a handful of people.

I've talked to enough other people who've lost children to know that grieving is a slow process, and that the pain lessens with time (but doesn't totally go away).

What makes me move ahead despite the grief?

Many things. Much of it is my family. Linda is a wonderful wife and mother, and keeps us together. Christie is a wonderful blessing to us, with her sense of humor, her wit, her upbeat personality. Also:

· Seeing a grief counselor regularly has helped. (If you're grieving, you ought to see someone to help talk through it!)

· This web site has helped me a lot, because the world learns about and pays tribute to Daniel, keeping his memory alive and inspiring other people.

· The adoption process has helped us by giving us something positive to work towards, realizing we will still be able to help and raise another child.

· The greatest help for me is the visualization of Daniel in heaven, in God's arms. In seeing him there, I come to realize that Daniel is probably saying to me, "There's no need to cry for me, though I appreciate your missing me so. You needn't cry for me, I'm in a better place. And I want you to be in a better place, taking care of Mom and Christie and yourself. One day soon we'll all be together. So take care of yourself."

Turning grief into action

That's what they call my gun control work. And the assumption is that I overcome my grief through work. That's somewhat true, but not as much as perhaps some people think it does.

For one thing, it's depressing thinking and talking about guns nearly every day, especially when having to read and hear the ridiculous excuses given by the gun lobby for their recalcitrance. How terrible it is as a grieving parent to hear some opponents express a cavalier, matter-of-fact attitude towards the terrible toll of gun violence.

Second, it's quite different taking on a controversial political issue. If Daniel had died of a rare disease and I was working for a cure for that disease, there would be many words of comfort and admiration. But working on the gun control issue is often painful:

· First, as mentioned elsewhere in this web site, there is the unwelcome, nasty and even hateful mail that I receive;

· If I hadn't taken on this issue, I probably would have received more of those quiet and sustained feelings from people expressing condolences; instead, it is unfortunate to recognize there are people who are angry at me, who sometimes express sympathy but then add their qualifiers (".but I strongly disagree with your gun control beliefs.!")

Nonetheless, I am doing this work in Daniel's name. I'm doing this work so that more parents don't have to go through the pain we've gone through. And for those reasons I'll continue to do so.

What about this youth violence?

Obviously this has been a hot question for many since Columbine and the other school shootings. But I have a problem with the question. I think the use of the word "youth" next to the word "violence" is a sign of denial. That is, it becomes a way for many adults to blame our youth for that problem and deny that they had anything to do with it.

No, the fact is we have a violence problem, not a youth violence problem. After all, from whose world did these kids learn violence? We see the lack of civility and signs of violence all around us-domestic violence, numbing violence in the media, road rage, and in pro sports. We see the indirect seeds of it even close to home-parents abusing referees at their kids' sports games, parents spending more time making money than with their kids, people taking a casual attitude towards guns, etc.

Mel Glerup, of Highlands Ranch, Colo., wrote a letter to me recently. Besides attacking my gun control views, he also seemed to blame the Columbine community itself for the tragic shootings. He blamed the "Columbine area's sick culture," with its "class warfare, lack of respect for others, lack of respect for the law.."

Again, it's just so easy to place the blame elsewhere. Then you feel better about yourself. But the fact is that the Columbine area really isn't much different than other communities. We have our strengths and weaknesses. But saying that we're somehow to blame for this tragedy is just a copout, Mr. Glerup. It's easier than looking in the mirror.

It's just much easier to blame kids and blame the Columbine community than to take responsibility for our nation's unfortunate levels of violence. Denial just lengthens the time it will take to deal with this problem. And violence is only the worst consequence. If we fail to spend time with our kids, provide a moral compass, and teach them civility, we're just asking for other abhorrent consequences-like more suicide, intolerance, avarice, etc.

The parents of the killers: how responsible?

It's a question that I know many people want to ask me, though it's usually only reporters that have the nerve to ask me. Well, it would be easy to blame everything on the parents of the killers, especially since the killers are no longer here to blame. (As you can see, I don't use the Columbine killers' names here-they are mentioned far more often than those of the victims, so I refuse to give them more publicity!)

I'm not a person who's prone to judge, condemn or look for blame in one place. I don't know the killers' parents, so I don't know much about their parenting. And, most unfortunately, the parents of the killers have shared none of their experiences or lessons with the world.

I realize there are many factors that played into the development of the killers' hateful and dysfunctional behaviors. And I realize that child psychologists tell us that teens can hide much from parents.
On the other hand, I must say that I cannot imagine how a loving parent could not be tuned enough into their child to see that they were harboring such hate that could lead to the desire to commit mass murder. How involved were they in their child's life that they could not see such alienation, such despair and such hatred? This aspect is simply beyond my comprehension as a parent.


Some people have commented about when they think the parents of the victims should forgive the murderers and their parents. Some have criticized the parents for not expressing such forgiveness.

Yes, expressing forgiveness is indeed something taught to those of us in the Christian faith. I think the real question, though, is timing. Are we taught to forgive immediately after we've been wronged? Should we have forgiven the killers one hour after they murdered our child? One day? Surely most people would say no. But then what about one week later? One month? One year?

There is no specific guideline for such a deep emotion. Unless you have been through such a tragedy yourself, you should not pass judgement or pretend to know when such forgiveness is in one's heart. With so much still unknown about the killers' intentions and about their parents' behavior, and with so much on our minds, forgiveness is not as easy as one might think.

Furthermore, forgiveness may not come in one package. And one certainly shouldn't expect it to be delivered via press conference. This is a private matter, and it should stay that way.

A divided community?

The media has often commented favorably about the healing of the parents of the victims and of the Columbine community in general. But some have also characterized the community as divided and shaken by controversies such as the filing of lawsuits, the argument over whether to display 15 or 13 crosses, etc. etc.

I must ask you all to please think about what has happened here in my community and to my dear Columbine victims' families. We have been shaken to our roots. Emotions are high. Parents are devastated. Imagine yourself in our situation. Would you not be emotional? Would you not be displaying anger and dismay and searching for answers? Of course you'd be! So, please understand that the questions being asked and actions being taken are arising from a tragic situation.

In reality, I think the Columbine community and the families of the victims have held up extremely well, have demonstrated a tremendous amount of strength and courage, and have been an exemplary model for others in such tragic situations.

Public Exposure

One of the biggest good news/bad news aspects of this tragedy is the public exposure. The good news, if there can be such a thing, is that the widespread publicity behind the Columbine tragedy has meant that the victims' families have felt the strength of so many prayers and the warmth of so many expressions of sympathy and support.

The bad news is that it comes with a loss of privacy. Most people who lose a loved one tragically can mourn in relative privacy, but not us. Many of our names and faces are well known in the local community.

When out in the public we face the longer-than- usual glances. We encounter those whose faces exude sympathy and understanding, but also those who can't stand to face us for fear of thinking of the pain, or those who look away because they don't know how to deal with us. And, as Linda says, at times you feel like you're walking around with a big "C" painted on your forehead.

Some of us are reluctant to give our name at a restaurant for fear of getting looks from customers when our name is called, as if we were animals in a zoo cage.

Yes, as a visible advocate for gun control, I have put myself in the public eye as a means of delivering a message. I need the media attention and exposure to promote my agenda. I do it in Daniel's name. But that doesn't make it easy. It's very unnerving to be in a position where you find yourself being watched, especially when you're more of a private person. It's part of the territory, but that doesn't mean it's a comfortable part.


Yes, lawsuits have been filed by many of the parents. We are not among them. But that does not necessarily mean we do not support those who have filed them.

I am among those who often argue against our overly litigious society. But my views have been tempered a bit. You must keep in mind that there are two sides to a litigious society. As a result of this being a litigious society, it becomes tougher to get people, especially public officials, willing to share information. That is, because they are afraid of being sued, they tend to share less information. It's a vicious circle.

And when parents have some deep questions about what happened in such a tragedy as Columbine, they want answers. When they feel they aren't getting them, it should come as no surprise that they seek legal means of getting answers. And it's very unfair to assume that parents are "trying to get rich" when they do so. Again, you need to put yourself in their shoes to better understand.

More reflections in the future...including thoughts on Sheriff John Stone...

Top of page

Daniel and Christie.

We are all Columbine!