Destruction and Creation

I've been crying since Father's Day, but I was crying well before that when, on June 12,  49 people were murdered at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. They were queer, most were Latinx and people of color and they were killed because of their sexuality. At this time, it's the deadliest mass shooting in United States history. Dozens of families were plunged into grief and mourning. Senators offered prayers and condolences and then most of them voted today, June 20th, against gun reform bills that would have saved lives.

Grief is not enough.

Prayers are not enough.

Words are not enough if they are not followed by action.

Mass shootings have become an all-too-common occurrence in the United States. How much grief can we keep feeling before numbness sets in? The list of the dead keeps getting longer. They die on the streets of Chicago without media coverage. They die in schoolrooms and movie theaters and churches. They die in their homes at the hands of abusive husbands and boyfriends. Since Sandy Hook, more than 1,000 mass shootings have occurred. The frequency of mass shootings is unique to the United States. No other developed country experiences this rate of mass violence or so many deaths due to guns.

The four gun control bills brought before the Senate today would not have prevented every shooting in the country, but they would have prevented some of them. Lives could have been saved. However, the gun lobby and the NRA are so dominant in congress that none of the bills passed, despite polls that show that 90 percent of Americans favor common sense gun control measures, like universal background checks.


I've been thinking about my father, as I always think about him in times of hardship, when the world becomes too much and I wish for his presence and the sense of safety he provided me. Father's Day came and went. I was unable to write. I stayed in bed most of the day, crying so much that I felt physically ill. I felt like I was unraveling. Maybe my entire life has been one long unraveling, one long deterioration. It feels like that sometimes.

I had a realization today, one that I struggle to fully articulate. I realized that his death both destroyed and remade me. It destroyed my ability to cope, intensifying the debilitating anxiety and depression that I live with now. But his death also remade me. It made me tender and conscious of the pain of others. When I look at who I am today--deeply feminist and political and strongly involved in advocating for the rights of all people--I see that his death sparked my humanism, my morality, and my social awakening.

I simply would not be who I am if he had not died. That doesn't mean it was a good thing or that it happened for a reason. It means that I have to acknowledge the reality that losing him created a deeper connection between me and the world because I experienced the worst moment that most of us ever experience. You reach the bottom: the death of another person, which is the end of everything. What comes out of it? What is born after that nothingness and emptiness, that complete obliteration? Creation and destruction, such opposites and yet so interdependent and often coexisting at the same time.

I care about this world not just because of his death but because of his life too, because he encouraged me to be a good person and modeled that through his life and the person he was. I want him to be alive. I want to feel safe again, but the truth is that we are never safe. Safety is illusory. The world is vast and frightening, the world is cruel and unjust, and we are at its mercy. We are at the mercy of inept lawmakers and hateful people with easy access to guns. The people we love can be taken away at any moment. All that we know can be destroyed in an instant, like it was for those families in Orlando.

These moments of destruction have the awful power to remake us. Grief can be a catalyst for change, it can unite people and spur them to demand justice. Think of the work of AIDS activists in the 1980s and 1990s who saw their friends and lovers die as the government did nothing. Their grief sparked protests that led to breakthroughs in legislation and the development of medicine that has saved countless lives. Think of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina who channeled their grief over their "disappeared" children into a protest movement that brought international attention to the human rights violations committed by the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. These are but two examples of the ways in which people around the world have harnessed grief to effectuate a societal shift in thinking.

We can't bring back the dead, but we have a responsibility to ask how we can remake the world in a way that honors them and then do all we can to create that world. We lost today. We've lost after every mass shooting, but I don't want to fall into complete despair. I want to believe that we can build a more just society, that we can save lives. I'm not sure when it will happen, but I know the power of grief and I know the power of people to come together and change society.

Podcast: A Conversation on The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt

For Mother’s Day, I bought my mother the book The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss by Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt. Through the years, Anderson and Gloria have experienced many tragedies, from the death of Anderson's father, Wyatt Cooper, in 1978 when Anderson was only 10 years old to the suicide of his brother, Carter Cooper  in 1988.

The Rainbow Comes and Goes is structured as an exchange of email messages between Anderson and Gloria. Mother and son write about the pain of loss and how they have survived. The book primarily focuses on Gloria’s life, providing insight into her glamorous but tumultuous adolescence that saw her pushed into the center of a fierce custody battle between her mother and aunt. Eventually, custody of Gloria went to the aunt. As the book progresses, Gloria discusses the men she fell in love with, her relationship with her sons, the death of Wyatt Cooper and the suicide of Carter.

It’s a candid book that both my mother and I emotionally connected to. In our podcast, we have an equally candid discussion about how the book affected us and what it’s been like to live through our own tragedies, including the death of my father in 2006 when I was 16 years old. We laugh, we cry, we hold nothing back.

You can listen to the podcast and read the transcript here:

Highlights from our conversation:

I’ve always said that once daddy died it was like safety was gone, protection was gone. I was 16 years old and it was like the world changed. You have these perceptions  about the world, you thought things were good, you thought things were going to be okay, you thought your life was a certain way and then you realize it’s not that way at all, that this can happen, that death is possible, that you can lose someone. You can wake up one day  with them alive and you can go to bed and they’re gone and it’s just… it completely shatters you and takes away any kind of stability that you might have felt you had. 


I always wonder what would I be like if daddy hadn’t died. I always think, would I have ...what would I have accomplished? What would I have done? Because the last ten years have been so debilitating for me, like, yeah, I went to college, I’ve done things that I guess people would look and say “Oh she’s accomplished something” but not nearly what I wanted. When I was a teenager, I had a lot of dreams and things I wanted to be, things I wanted to do,  and it’s like, once he was gone, it was like “What do I do?” It’s so hard. You think about who you would have been, what would you be like if that person was still here? If that thing hadn’t happened, if that death hadn’t happened, who would you be? And you don’t know. 


Other people have said this, we have words for certain kinds of loss. If your parents are gone, you’re an orphan. If your husband dies, you’re a widow. If your wife dies, you’re a widower. But when your child dies, we don’t have a word for it. What do you call yourself? We literally don’t have the language for that kind of loss. We just don’t have the language for it or a word for it. I don’t think anything would probably ever capture it….I appreciate Anderson and Gloria’s candidness when it comes to loss. I know it helped me. To read Anderson’s parts and what he wrote about his father and to think “Oh yeah me too. Me too.” And the connection of that. How powerful is that, when you’re reading something and you can say “Me too.”? For a moment, you feel a little less alone. You’re still in pain, you’re still grappling with your grief, but you can say “Me too” and it just diminishes something for that moment. When I was reading Anderson’s parts, I just thought “Yeah, me too.” Unfortunately. I get this and wow it’s good to know I’m not the only one who’s thought these things or felt these things and that’s what’s so important about books and writing, is that when you read these things you can say “Me too.”