Continuing Your Life When Tragedy Strikes

SheKnows is proud to offer The Parent Trap column, by mother and writer Lain Chroust Ehmann.
Lain Chroust Ehmann

At first, it's overwhelming; you cry every time you turn on the TV and the surreal images of destruction, hopelessness and pain fill your eyes. You cry as you watch the unending efforts of the doctors, nurses, firefighters, police and ordinary souls, working against a backdrop of gray haze and broken buildings, trying to make a difference for at least one person -- or so they hope. You cry when you drive to the Red Cross blood bank and you see the line, hundreds of people long, stretching outside the building.

The next day, you think you can't go on crying, but you do. You cry as you read the pieced-together accounts of those who tried to escape, those who did escape, those who didn't even have a chance. You review the diagrams of the buildings and consider that perhaps life -- and death -- is more a matter of chance than you'd like to believe. You cry as you see flocks of thousands, emotions in tatters, wandering the smoky, empty streets of Manhattan aimlessly, numb in their shock, clutching crumpled pictures of their lost friends and family. You cry when your three-year-old asks why the bad men made the planes crash, and you have no answer.

The days go by, and you think you don't have any tears left, but you do. They creep up on you in the odd moments. As you drive in your car, you can see the planes ramming into the towers, over and over again, like a broken film stuck in a horrific loop. Lying in bed, you wonder about all the people who can't sleep because the one they love isn't with them, and you share their hurt.

A week passes and you think you have nothing left, but the anguish returns as you scan the list of the injured, the missing, the dead. You know that each name represents a grieving family with a raw, gaping wound that no amount of vengeance can fill. You also know that eventually you will see a name or a face you recognize. And when your eye finally catches that name, you're almost relieved -- and then you cry some more.

The stories continue to unfurl, and so do the tears. You learn that the name you recognized -- the guy with the great smile and the great jump shot from your high school basketball team -- left behind a wife, two children and an unborn baby. You learn that he's considered a hero for his actions on board Flight 93, for trying to stop the bad guys. You read the stories, listen to the TV commentators, and see his wife in the balcony at the joint session of Congress, cloaked in a black maternity dress. You wonder if the word "hero" helps explain to a four-year-old why his daddy isn't coming home. And you do the only thing you can - you cry.

You think you can't go on hurting, but you do. You feel the pain -- a sharp, searing incision, right above the breastbone -- and a sickness in the pit of the stomach, like a voracious, crazed animal, devouring everything in its path. You wonder what you would have done, had you been on that plane. And your husband -- would you have wanted him to stay in his seat and try to get through it, or stand up because he really had no choice? You wonder if there's a right answer to that question. Two weeks, and you've given up hope of things ever being as they were before. Will the tears stop? Will the aching stop? Will the fires stop? Will the killing stop? Then, almost unnoticed, a small shift takes place. You stop thinking about it -- at first, for only a few seconds at a time. You feel almost guilty when you catch yourself dwelling on something mundane, like what to make for dinner or if the shoe store will be crowded on Saturday afternoon. And when you actually laugh at something your son says, you cringe at the harshness of the sound, as if you'd shrieked during a funeral service. People are dead, you think, scolding yourself.

But the normal, everyday needs of your family claim your attention, and the times between the tears get longer and longer. Oh, you still cry -- and you may always cry when caught by a particular image or see a face ravaged by unknowable grief. But your heart is mending, slowly, slowly. You hope the world is, too. You think you can't go on living, but somehow, you

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