“Thinking is hard work, which is why you don’t see a lot of people doing it.”
~Sue Grafton, American author
Those who say it is time for the Virginia Tech families “to move on” are often blinded by the total settlement figure. All they see is the money. Many do not understand that the pain from the loss of a child or spouse cannot be mitigated by any amount of money, nor will time completely heal the wound. They don’t stop to think that the lawyers for the families got $1 million and each family of a deceased loved one received $100,000. That is not a fortune—it is an insult. They don’t stop to think that $100,000, $1 million, or a $100 million cannot replace their child or family member. Ask any parent or spouse who lost someone on April 16, 2007 and he or she will say keep your money and give me my loved one back.
The Virginia Tech Settlement Agreement and Release
1. Direct payments to victims’ and personal representatives of victims’ estates $3,850,000 (The $100,000 for the families came from this pot of money.)
2. Charitable Purposes Fund $1,750,000
3. Hardship Fund $1,900,000
4. Attorneys’ fees $1,500,000 (approximate)
These well-meaning people who talk about “moving on” often speak without thinking; their attempts at kindness can, in fact, be very cruel. They do not realize that the first thing to know about a tragedy—particularly the sudden loss of a child or spouse—is that you will never really get over it; you learn to live with it, you learn to cope, but it is always there. These people don’t stop to think about what they are saying; they have no idea of the negative impact their words can have. Furthermore, everyone attempts to recover from such tragedies in his or her own way, in his or her own time—there is no standard or set time to “move on.”
There is, furthermore, no one formula for the recovery process. Some simply remember and are thankful for having the time they had with their lost loved one; some say this was all God’s purpose and we will trust in him; others devote themselves to preventing future campus shootings; and some simply remember and cry. All are valid forms of recovery and no one has the right to judge or tell any parent or spouse how or when she or he should begin to put her or his life back together.
When you listen to the families talk about the child they lost or the spouse who was gunned down, you hear stories of amazing, wonderful human beings; you begin to realize the full magnitude of what was lost that day—it becomes overpowering; the loss is suffocating.
My work on this book has made me realize how remarkable the families of the Virginia Tech tragedy are. They are an inspiration. The pain is there, it will never go completely away, but they are moving ahead with their lives in a variety of ways. I have come to admire the Tech families I interviewed for this book; they represent, in so many ways, the finest qualities of human character and nature. Each family is strong in its own unique way.
My admiration for the Virginia Tech families becomes even greater when I reflect on the fact that there is some pain that time will never fully heal, especially when victims’ families are lied to. The people who say it is time to move on do not realize that if a parent or family member dares to raise questions or ask for explanations he or she may encounter vicious criticism, and even threats for personal safety. Indeed, there is a small, but at times highly vocal group of people who are incredibly cruel and callous. They belittle the families of school shooting victims in their attempt to find answers and to hold people accountable; they call these families moneygrubbers and greedy. The people who call on the families to “move on” do not want to hear about the sarcasm, threats, and verbal abuse some victims’ families have encountered. But they need to. They need to understand the harsh reality of what really happens. (To be continued)