There is something comforting about his silence.

Now especially, as I’ve been rendered speechless by the horrors that transpired on the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, I find myself drawn to him, the quiet space I desperately try to penetrate each day a welcome reprieve from the noises and wails of the outside world.

When words have failed me, as they do now, I am drawn to his language, a language which transcends the adjectives and verbs that do not do justice in describing the thoughts and feelings that trample over my heart each time I allow myself to think of those precious children and their heroic teachers.

I sit next to my silent special needs son, and do not try to explain the storm brewing inside of me because he does not require it of me.

I sit next to him and bask in his ability to just be.

I sit next to him and I am briefly filled with envy.


My husband mentions he’s been waiting for his inbox to indicate I’ve written a piece about Newtown.

“I know you,” he tells me. “I know you have something to say.”

“I do not know where to begin,” I tell him.

And push my computer away.


I sit in my kitchen

open my laptop,

and stare at the blank screen while my tears merge with the rain outside.

Maybe I’ll try again later.



Finger pointing.


A whirlwind of opinions and dangerous assumptions.

I cannot bring myself to get involved, to intervene, to interject, to insert myself among the voices that have divided a country already on its knees, mourning, desperate for answers.

I try, but the words do not come.

And so I sit, next to my silent son, who reminds me there is more than one way to communicate.

And I wait.


Guilt shows up, unannounced, on the second day.

I rise from my bed in the predawn darkness, plug in the Christmas tree, and watch as it illuminates the living room ; I’ve always treasured this pocket of silence and slumber and twinkling lights.

But today is different.

Today the tree is much too beautiful to bear and Guilt slaps me hard across the face.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?!!” she screams at me. “Children are DEAD! Don’t you see? How can you be so SELFISH?”

I unplug the tree,

stand alone in the darkness

and weep.


Thank God the kids are on Winter Break.

I need them right now more than they need me.

Every request, every whine, every hug and kiss and interruption is a welcome distraction, a reminder that life moves forward and I must keep pace or risk being left behind.

I cling to the mundane tasks that keep me safely afloat and on track.

I cling to my children.


They are saying he may have had autism, this man.

That the autism made him do it.

They are spreading lies.

Perpetuating fear.

Putting people like my son in harm’s way.

They are saying things they shouldn’t.

They should shut the #$%% up.


Something makes me laugh.

Something my husband says.

It’s stupid and off the cuff and no one else would get it but we both do and I laugh.

I laugh so hard I cry, I cry so hard I laugh, until I can no longer distinguish between the two.

And it’s liberating and scary as hell and I don’t want it to stop.


Guilt begins to fade slowly to the background as Gratitude moves in.

“Don’t waste time. There’s no time to waste,” she gently reminds me.

And so I breathe full deep breaths, the kind that remind you you’re still alive when you’ve all but forgotten.


I wake early on the fourth day and plug in the Christmas tree, and savor every ornament, every light. I bask in the glow, fill my heart with a million thank you’s, cry in wonder at the beauty and frailty and unfairness of this great, big, delicate, unpredictable, imperfect life.

My children wake.

My husband embraces me.

My heart beats rhythmically.

Guilt struggles to elbow her way into the picture but Gratitude steps in to protect me.

“You are not welcome here,” she says quietly. “You are not useful right now.”

And so Guilt retreats and Gratitude begins to make herself comfortable.

“But what about Grief? I ask her. “Grief is still here.”

“Grief will linger,” she tells me, “but Grief and I have an understanding.”

And so my heart and my home and my life become a strange combination of Grief and Gratitude as I fumble my way back to reality, a place where my family needs me, a place that honors and never forgets about those who have lost their lives, a place where I do not try to make sense of the senseless but vow instead to be a part of the solution, whatever that may mean.


My steps still feel heavy,

my hands still shake a little,

my vision blurs if I think too much about the unthinkable.

But I move forward

sometimes reluctantly

often gratefully,

and try to keep pace with a life that I know I am blessed to have.


A precious life I will use for good.

A life I will not take for granted.








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21 Replies to “Newtown: On Guilt, Grief, and Gratitude”

  1. This is the most hauntingly beautiful post I have read yet. This. This is what so many of us are feeling. Thank you so much.

  2. I can barely see the words through the tears and I’m completely overwhelmed at how perfectly you articulated everything I’ve been feeling. I haven’t been able to stop crying since Friday, but this is the fist time that it feels like it is actually helping me. Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Jo. I have long since learned what you describe about the understanding between gratitude and grief. Your words brought tears and a sense of calm. Thank you for sharing your heart as well as your level head.

  4. Every post makes me ever-more eternally grateful that I found your site. You are amazing Jo. Thank you for always sharing your thoughts with us and for doing it so eloquently and on-point every time. You GO girl.

  5. Thank you so much. For reading and for commenting. I hope it helped you to heal a little. When I wrote it, it helped me.

  6. Jo, you are truly admired and respected. When I heard the media blaming Autism, we knew we could count on you to eloquently voice our thoughts. I cannot fathom the loss those other families are facing, and all we can do is pray for them.
    Thanks for all you do, not only for autism but for parents in general.

    Much respect,

  7. Hi, found you via Love that Max’s link up and am so glad that I did. This post is perfect in every way and so very well written. I love how you personalized Grief and Gratitude and how you said what I think all of us raising children on the spectrum have been feeling. Thank you. I’ve bookmarked your site and will definitely be back. Beautiful.

  8. This is so beautiful. I happily stumbled upon your blog for the first time today (because of the parent magazine contest) and this brought me to tears. Especially the part about sitting next to your son who “reminds me that there is more than one way to communicate”…and the beautiful recognition that Grief and Gratitude have an understanding. Amen! Thank you…

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