"Are you okay? "Where are you?" "I'm praying for you!" "I love you!" My phone was buzzing like crazy on Sunday morning.
I didn't understand why at first. I no longer have a personal Facebook, and the TV wasn't on. I went on Twitter and saw: a shooting in Orlando. I watched the numbers rise in real time. First some dead, then multiple, then 20, now 50.
My reaction was visceral. I know the horror of waiting to hear — that was me, four years ago, when a shooter attacked my 6-year-old daughter’s elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. A helicopter flew overhead. It made everything too real. Too familiar. I panicked. I called my friend. I cried. Fifty people. I was reliving being one of the family members in wait.
My friend told me the details. An attack against people who are gay. A specific group. Just like last year around this time. The 17th of June. A black church. My head was spinning.
I was tired. I was scared. I wanted to curl up in a fetal position on the sofa and watch Harry Potter movies with my son. I thought: Perhaps I will build a bulletproof barrier around my house and just order groceries from Peapod all summer. Or for the rest of our lives.
How do I tell my son that 49 people all died the way his sister did? And in one of our favorite places: Orlando, Florida?
I am waiting for the church to be as outraged about gun violence as much as we seem to be about who pees where in a Target bathroom.
"I am sorry that our tragedy here in Sandy Hook wasn't enough to save your loved ones"
Here is my message to those families in Florida:
I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I am sorry that our tragedy here in Sandy Hook wasn't enough to save your loved ones. I tried, and I won't stop trying.
Don't you dare even listen to even one person who may insinuate that somehow this is your loved one’s fault because they were gay or any other reason. Nor is it God's wrath. They did that to us in Sandy Hook, too. And it broke my heart. You will receive love from a million places. Embrace it. Take good care of yourself. This will be a forever journey.
Some ugly will come your way too. When you speak up about gun violence in America, you get death threats. You get made fun of. You get people telling you your child's death isn't even real. You have to close down your personal Facebook account because you get tired of harassing messages. You block enough people on Twitter to fill a football stadium. You have to hire security at fundraising events because you don't know who will show up. Delete. Ignore. Let it go.
Your loss on Sunday will bring out the worst and the best in all of us. May we commit to being our best selves in honor of what you now bear.
I am going to continue to fight to spread the message that love wins. In honor of your loved ones. Because hate, ugliness, evil, and prejudice cannot silence love, courage, good.
I will commit to learning about each and every one of your loved ones. And we will commit as a family to learning about their lives and the legacies you build in their memory. My son will learn about your loved ones. And we will not forget. We will say their names out loud. We will remember your children. As you remembered and learned about ours.
I am so sorry. Because you shouldn't have to be doing this. You should be planning summer outings to the beach and barbecues and birthdays and graduations. And I know it will never be the same. You never move on. You do move forward. One weighted leg after the other. One heavy heartbeat after the next. You move forward for your surviving children and those who depend on you. And you are never the same.
"You are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution"
Here is my message to friends who want to help:
Please wait to donate until you know for sure that your hard-earned dollars will be received by victims and not by individuals, groups, and organizations designed to benefit from tragedies. Millions were poured into Sandy Hook. Very little reached the families directly. And victims of gun violence will have a lifetime of need. Before you give, ask where your dollars will go. Specify that you want it to go to victims’ families.
Aside from money, you are either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. Victims cannot bear the burden of this alone. Please help.
Bring up gun violence in your house of worship or community group. Join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America or any other group like it that speaks to you.
If you know someone who shows extreme hate of a group or individual, has access to weapons, and you feel there is inherent risk of harm, please call your local police immediately. Let's be more than bystanders. Let's save lives.
Nelba Márquez-Greene started the Ana Grace Project to honor the memory of her daughter, Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, who died in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting.