An Open Letter to the Parents Who’ve Lost a Child in Tragedy—From Someone Who Knows

Guns. Most people have an opinion about them. A large majority own them—for sport, hunting, protection. Others own guns to cause harm and wreak havoc. Maybe someone you love has died from a gunshot wound. Self inflicted. Accidental. Crime. Mass shooting.

Firearms are one of the most controversial topics of our day.

To be honest, it’s taken me years to even to say the word {gun} after losing my three-and-a-half-year-old son in a firearm accident on July 21, 2009.

I see the news articles about families, like my own, with their most recent family portrait attached to their tragic new devastating reality. I see the comments posted below, of pure ignorance and hate, judgment and just plain evil. Honestly, I don’t believe that most of the peanut gallery even realize how unnecessary and evil their two-cents are, it’s just, unfortunately, the way of this world. Opinions. Judgements. People on their high horses.

Consider this an ‘Open letter to all humanity,” to families who have suffered a tragic loss, bystanders, first responders (so courageous and brave), Internet critics, perfect people (ha!), imperfect people… you get the idea.

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I hope to shed some light on this tragic circumstance and remind everyone that the families in these news stories are real people, going through anyone’s worst nightmare—they need Love and comfort, not accusations and lectures on parenting.

It doesn’t take a genius to understand what a gun can do, and no one is intentionally leaving their firearm out thinking that their child will find it and somehow accidentally put a bullet in themselves or someone else.

Even the thought of something like this happening to you can seem so far fetched. I get it. Trust me. I do. You take all the safety precautions, educate your young children, lock up your firearms (please regularly do this. Night stands, cabinets, car glove boxes, purses, are not a secure place for your gun, especially if you have young children), but it only takes one time of being in a rush and forgetting to put it back in its safe place and unintentionally leaving it within reach.

It only takes ONCE before you could find yourself in this nightmare. One time. One second! Have you ever forgotten about something before? An appointment? Meeting? Turning off the lights, the oven, the hose? Maybe leaving a candle burning? A simple oversight? Can you even begin to imagine what it would be like if that one time cost you your child’s life? The feelings that accompany such tragedy are gut wrenching. These families look just like yours the majority of the time. Loving. Cautious. Hands on. Nurturing. Kind. Full of anticipation for the future.

The only difference is that [we] have to live the rest of [our] lives without our child, that we will continue to Love, despite the fact they are no longer here with us, just as any parent loves a child. All the while terrified of the awful whispers and sometimes shouts of onlookers/strangers regarding the very essence of who [we] are. The shame. The guilt. The grief. Tackling these massive and overwhelming emotions all while grieving the immense and traumatizing loss of [our] child.

It could be you. YOU! {I hope that it never is.} I don’t say this to instill fear, I say it to raise awareness. I don’t hate guns; I don’t love guns…I really don’t understand how anyone loves or hates an inanimate object; it’s an object. I understand the urgency to rid this country of guns in light of all of the statistics, but I’m also not naive to think that eliminating a particular weapon is the ‘end-all’ solution. In deaths related to intentional harm and evil, gun or not, it’s an issue of the heart. In circumstances such as my own, a firearm meant for protection, I’m the first to say this simply has got to stop occurring. I hate that what is meant for protection from evil has ultimately caused the greatest unimaginable grief in too many homes.

Never in a million years did I think my family would be in this situation. (And I’m sure you feel the same.) Not us, no way; yet here we are among the devastating statistics. The statistics that bombard our televisions and news-feeds, our loss is suddenly compiled into a number, a number on a calculated chart that is left for judgment, debate, opinions. Wars are waged, laws are made and lines are drawn.

I desire to be a beacon of Hope to these families that find themselves in this grim reality in the blink of an eye. It would be so easy to hide and retreat, not put myself out here, but I cannot sit here any longer and continue to see these accidents, look into the faces of these families in these snapshots, knowing, like me, they’ll never have a full family picture again, and not say something!

To the families in these ‘shoes,’ I’m here to tell you that you can survive this, you can!! You don’t have to hide and that shame doesn’t have to dictate your life forever.

My first piece of advice would be not to read the comments on the Internet. As tempting as it may be, most of what you are going see is people who have forgotten what Love and compassion are. The state of their own heart reveals the hate behind their harsh criticism aimed directly at you all the while knowing nothing about you.

[>*Who the reality of YOUR child being gone DOESN’T affect in the slightest<*]

They don’t know you, they don’t know your precious child, so why give them the permission and authority to taint your life with their cluelessness. They think they know better and are better because they aren’t in your shoes. Typing words behind a screen and spewing venom at people going through something so horrific is just plain cowardly and wrong.

Just like bad things happen to good people; accidents happen in responsible and loving homes.

If everyone who finds themselves in this devastating reality remains silent, these tragedies will continue to occur. I wish I could say that the ignorant judgments would cease as well, but hurt people like to hurt people, so we’ve just got to stop allowing what someone may think or say hold power over us, and be brave in sharing our stories. If this world only hears and sees one side of the story from a news article, how can we expect this stigma that all ‘preventable accidents’ only occur in irresponsible or neglectful homes to dissipate? We are not just a statistic. We are loving families that have dreams and expectations for our children. We are people having to navigate through the worst possible grief process and nightmare one can imagine, the loss of a child.

I also want to tell these precious families that blaming yourself, someone else or God only intensifies the grief. It’s a natural instinct to want pin blame when tragedies in life occur. We believe that if we have a tangible place to direct our anger and point our finger then it will help make sense of what we are going through. We live in a society that needs answers and quick fixes, immediate gratification and explanations. God is usually the scapegoat. Because He is in ‘ control’ He gets the finger pointed in His direction and anger aimed directly toward Him, completely disregarding {free will} when it comes into play.

Attempting to hide our feelings only adds to the shame you’re experiencing. You feel guilty because this unintentional error on your part now puts you on a statistic chart and leaves you standing over your child’s grave. You feel ashamed, I mean how couldn’t you? There are more fingers pointed and accusations aimed at you than you know how to cope with. To top it all off you are probably also angry at God, because, well, He could have intervened and didn’t. Which makes the anger, guilt and shame that much greater.

Let’s face it, most of us replace the (helpless) feelings of deep sadness and tremendous grief with the raging and anger. When our child dies in an accident, we feel out of control, confused, ashamed, like a failure. But mostly we feel more heartache than we ever knew humanly possible. We don’t like to feel this way, so we allow anger to take over and manifest itself. If we hold onto that anger, it will slowly poison us from the inside out.

Sometimes we just have to be okay with not knowing all of the answers, not understanding exactly why things like this happen and be (temporarily) okay with feeling the heavy weight of sadness as we navigate life without our precious child. We’ve got to learn to be okay with not being okay for awhile, on birthdays, on anniversaries, after having a nightmare or flashback.

I know that, though there are days that you won’t be quite sure how you will breathe the next breath or take the next step, you can and you will. One day you will find yourself smiling and immediately cry because how could you possibly ever smile again. But we were not created to live in defeat, depression and torment.

It took me years of wrestling God over some unanswered questions and doubts, my confusion of how an accident like this could happen in my loving and nurturing home. And I heard God whisper the phrase ‘Shame is the enemy of healing’ into my weary heart.

We cannot continue to live in the manipulative grips of shame while grieving. It screams loud, intimidates, cultivates fear and insecurity. I know it can prove difficult to work through the shame that stems from our realities because it reminds us of what was or what is and we can’t necessarily expose and disregard it as a blatant ‘lie’ because most of the time shame reminds us of what is true. But there’s a big difference between what may be true of a certain situation and the Truth!

Our shame holds us prisoner in our circumstance, in the darkness and threatens that if we try to escape its grasp it will destroy us.

But I’m continuing to discover that it can’t hold me captive if I don’t allow it to. Shame is a form of intimidation, and it can only hold power over me if I let it. Shame’s purpose is to SILENCE and isolate!

We have to step into the Light. Release those regrets, those insecurities, that anger and blame, unforgiveness and fear and watch as healing begins to take place deep within our heart and soul.

Each time I share of my son’s terrifying, tragic accident I am gaining authority and freedom from the shame that tries to keep me silent, alone in misery. I can raise awareness in a society that expects me to be quiet and incapable.

Maybe this world needs to hear from someone who has actually experienced a devastating tragedy. From someone actually walking in and through the grips of this grim reality.

And maybe by speaking out and tuning out all the noise I can help someONE. You could help someONE.

Maybe it’s the family that is currently walking this tragic child loss road with me? Maybe I can reach a firearm owner with young children. A friend of a family living in this reality. Someone struggling with shame. A parent who feels like a failure due to a circumstance they felt was within their control. A person wrestling with God over a situation they’re facing.

The person tempted to write or say some ugly comment aimed at a mere stranger, projecting nothing but pointless hate and exposing nothing but the condition of their own heart. I urge you to pause and reflect before posting something that does nothing but causes more destruction and stirs up more evil in this quickly deteriorating world. You are deeply loved, and God has so much more for your life than trolling the Internet condemning and shaming. I pray for your heart to reconcile with the Great Love I know and have access to each and every day.

When I share this part of my life, though I would much rather talk about my son’s life than how he died, I can still come alive with purpose and see the witness and power of what sharing a testimony can bring to life.

We are all in this thing called life together. Death is an inescapable part of life though that reality doesn’t lessen the grief of outliving your child. The arguments of ‘should have/could have’ and name-calling, finger-pointing and much worse, do nothing but throw salt in a very deep wound of those affected by the tragedies. They aren’t just “breaking news stories” they are real life, that leave many personally affected for a lifetime.

Rather than argue endlessly over issues that are far beyond our realm of control let’s join in Love, despite our differences and beliefs, and watch as healing takes place where Love overshadows hate.

Patcine McAnaul is the mother of five children, four on earth and one in Heaven. She is the founder of #thewilltochoose ministry that supports bereaved parents with funeral costs as well as selling t-shirts with God’s Promises printed on them. Shirts are also available upon request to donate to bereaved parents. Find her on Instagram.