This morning this story from the Newtown Bee popped up in my newsfeed:
“The story is over. The families are burying their loved ones. Please leave our towns.”
These were the sentiments of State Representative DebraLee Hovey during a Capital memorial service December 19, but they represent the comments of a growing throng of Newtown residents, merchants and officials, as well as a number of survivors who have contacted The Bee in the days since the Sandy Hook School rampage.
I’ve been following the Bee on Facebook for quite some time. I have a deep respect for truly local newspapers. I’m a bit biased as I worked at one of these papers when I was fresh out of college, but these papers do a better job covering what’s important to its readers than just about any other news outlet. Sometimes that just means sitting at town council meetings, and relaying the facts in a way that people can understand. Sometimes it means being the only media outlet grieving families will turn to.
I don’t know what coverage of Sandy Hook looks like from the outside, but here in Connecticut it’s still nearly constant. And every time I turn on the local news I see tales of heartwarming kindness and I think, If I were part of the victims’ families, I would be so tired of this.
When my grandfather died I stopped picking up my phone after a few hours. Every time a friend called to check on me, I’d just burst into tears all over again. So I stopped answering. At his memorial service my friend Lindsay and her mother did more for me than anyone else by whispering hilarious, potty-mouthed insults to me to keep me from sobbing.
Just yesterday one of my co-workers emailed me to see if we might get together for our usual Christmas break lunch. Normally we’d all meet at Mexicali Rose in Newtown. I reminded him that we may have to fight a news crew for a table. Newtown’s picturesque streets are covered with soggy teddy-bears, withered flower arrangements, and hordes of media and well-wishers. The quaint village of Sandy Hook has turned into a prettier version of I-95 at rush hour. This is not how a community gets back to normal.
Even some of the media themselves have been talking about the way to properly cover a tragedy like this.
Today, in Connecticut, there is a downpour. I can hear my Christmas lights smacking my storm door and there are ankle deep puddles in my back yard. (I even lost power and had to go to a friend’s house in the middle of writing this.) The cats and dog have resigned themselves to a day inside, curled up on the furniture. And yet, a week after the shooting, reporters are all over Newtown standing in the rain and wind. There was a moment of silence this morning, along with the reading of the names of the victims from the school and one of the prettiest renditions of “Amazing Grace” that I’ve heard in a long time. Hopefully, now, the news crews will go home.
But it’s not just the media clogging the streets, it’s also the many kind people who have come to the town to express their own grief. I just hope, before the next carpool of people hops on the road with trinkets for the various memorials that have sprung up around town, they’ll ask themselves how they would feel if they had not only had their loved one taken from them, but then their entire town was turned upside down by the people just trying to help. If you were grieving, would you want strangers tramping across your lawn or to sit in an hour of traffic every time you needed to run out and pick up milk for your remaining children?
The #26acts of kindness project is a wonderful way to express your sympathy without getting in the way of moving forward — of bringing a little joy to someone’s day without being a constant, physical reminder of the grief. One of the smallest victims of the tragedy was an animal lover, and her parents’ asked that donations be made to the Newtown Animal Center in lieu of flowers. (A girl after my own heart…) When I volunteered at the Newtown Pound, I did so through Canine Advocates of Newtown. I’m sure they would appreciate your contributions — or for you to consider adopting one of the animals there. And there are, of course, countless charities popping up to serve the victims. Money isn’t going to make the families feel any better, but if you can work to make their community a better place, you’ll do some lasting good.
Now is the time to advocate for real change — to turn your grief into action. Donate to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. And don’t forget that gun deaths continue at an alarming rate, and just because they aren’t as dramatic as what happened in Sandy Hook doesn’t mean they aren’t as tragic.