Please make a difference – a message from a family who knows loss.

We are at the bend in the road. Are we the light we want to see?
We are at the bend in the road. Are we the light we want to see?
How can it be? Another shooting?

Like me, I imagine many of you this week are wondering how our families and communities can cope after so many acts of violence? How do we create a future for our young when they grow up surrounded by images of hurt and anger in the news, on their streets, in their schools and in their entertainment?

Those questions are very personal for me. Roseburg, where the recent shooting occurred, is my community. I have shopped there for years. I worked there. I have family and friends who, like me, live near there. My children went to school in this rural county where Roseburg is the county seat. They went there for track meets and movies.

Our son Ryan went to UCC with us, coloring while we took notes
Our son Ryan went to UCC with us, coloring while we took notes
My first husband Bruce and I went to Umpqua Community College as young married students in the 70’s. We held our sleeping baby Adam on our laps in the very classrooms where people died last week. My son Ryan, age 3, colored pictures in the seat next to me in Snyder Hall.

erMy son Robin in 2011 died in the very ER where the UCC victims were taken after the shooting this last week.

The thing is, violence including gun violence is NOT a new question for me. It has been starkly real and personal for years.

Today I pulled out an email I wrote to friends, elected officials and the newspapers in Dec 2012. It was just days after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 26 people were killed. I read it again this morning and every word still is true.

I want to share it with you, but not as another bit of human ugliness to traumatize you. You have enough images in your head. Nor is it political rhetoric for or against gun laws, whether you call it gun control or gun safety. I ask that you not turn my words into another justification for either side. That would distort the message I want to share and just possibly divert us from our collective responsibility to make a difference.

Candlelight vigil in Roseburg, Oregon
Candlelight vigil in Roseburg, Oregon
It was and still is my stand and passionate commitment that we can and MUST make a difference as individuals first and then every day after.

I hope you as fellow “individuals” will read, share this and take a moment to ponder the power we each have for change. Please join me in making a difference in all we do. Please do not wait for politicians or someone else to start. We are the ones who can lead with our actions so our children, our communities and our politicians will follow.

sandy hookDec 2012

Sandy Hook is not a news story to me.

Several times now I have read Facebook postings and news editorials recommending not to talk about gun control just yet in the aftermath of the recent killings. I have even written that out of respect for the victims. I did not want them forgotten in the political rhetoric.

The rhetoric keeps happening on all sides.

Some of my friends have written about needing their guns and the right to bear arms and protect themselves.

Some talk about God and Pledge of Allegiance and bringing prayer back in the schools.

Others are passionate about hating guns and the NRA thinking. I respect all of these people, though their views differ.

Violence is not a debate to me. It is not a flash news story that will fade in a few weeks. It is not about democrats or republicans or NRA or even vigils soon forgotten.

Violence is real and personal. My life, my family’s lives have forever been impacted by the tragedy of violence … up close, really, REALLY close, not just on a TV screen.

And in case, as you read this, you try to find blame with us or the place we live . . . sorry. That doesn’t fly. We are a well educated, middle class family who has lived far from violent cities and gangs.

We are not criminals, survivalist, or zealots. We do not have stacks of guns where children can reach them.

We are like many of you, yet violence has affected my family for years and in multiple ways.

soldiers in the trenches during WWI
soldiers in the trenches during WWI
One of my grandfathers served in World War I and came back with nightmares and mustard gas damage from the “war to end all wars.”

My father came home with nightmares and scars from his ship being bombed in World War II, the “good war.”

Bruce carried Vietnam with him always
Bruce carried Vietnam with him always
My first hubby Bruce served in Nam. He carried with him forever the sorrows and memories of government induced violence. He and his buddies came back as the walking wounded, though often the wounds were unseen.

We, their families, lived with them, watching when the shadow of war crossed their eyes at unexpected times. Some of you know what that is like, don’t you? Your family members were in Nam or Iraq or Afghanistan.

Maybe you were there.

How could such a peaceful place be a place of violence?
How could such a peaceful place be a place of violence?
But it wasn’t just wars that affected us. Bruce survived Nam only to be shot in the head by a drunken teenager. How could we have ever imagined that would happen? We had moved from LA to the country to be away from the violence and smog and city craziness.

Yet there we were, in the beautiful Oregon countryside and Bruce gets shot.

It was early morning in 1979 and the teen drove down the country road near where Bruce and my son Ryan were camping. The teen said he shot off the shotgun to wake up the neighborhood as a joke.

It was no joke to us.

The bullet ricocheted off a boulder and hit Bruce in the head. Our son Ryan, then just 7, cradled his dad as blood ran down both of them.

Bruce lived (with more PTSD) but a brain tumor grew in that exact same spot years later and killed him. The docs said maybe that injury contributed to the brain tumor. Who knows? I know the bullet robbed him and me of our sense of safety.

playing volleyball in the field by Snow Creek
playing volleyball in the field by Snow Creek
Then there was my son Adam. He was accidentally shot by an idiot teenager who was showing off to his girlfriend how he could twirl a loaded handgun.

They were at a community volleyball game; well-educated families playing in the sun by the creek. There were no criminals or gang violence, no mental illness;just pubescent show offs and legally owned guns.

Adam lived but that shot scarred our family.

Robin with his children two months before he died. Photo by Laurie Hayden Quinn
Robin with his children two months before he died. Photo by Laurie Hayden Quinn
Then there was Robin. I choke back tears as I write this. My son Robin, age 31, was shot in the face and killed last Dec 31st by a man with fears, a damaged spirit and a licensed shotgun loaded with a man-killer round. The man claimed self defense though the police told us Robin had no weapon, did not threaten or hurt the man.

No sense to it at all; just distorted thinking, a legal shotgun and lifelong grief for Robin’s children and our whole family.

Do I have bad feelings about guns? Do I shudder at the massive damage that a gun can do to a loved one’s body … more than a slap or swear word ever could do?

You bet. I can close my eyes and see the blood on people I love. I can hear their pain and feel their bewilderment and mine.

I can see the hurt in the eyes of all my grandchildren and my children who do not understand WHY. I don’t understand WHY either.

But not all violence that I have witnessed has been gun related. Not in the least.

I worked in Child Welfare and saw how families could  hurt and how they could heal
I worked in Child Welfare and saw how families could hurt and how they could heal
For years I worked in Child Welfare and saw up close the scars and burns and battered spirits of children hurt by adults. Some injuries were caused by guns. Mostly the weapons of choice were clenched fists, belts, lighters, neglect, cruel words and more.

Sometimes the children were hurt by the very systems and people who were supposed to protect them … teachers, police officers, social workers, probation officers, foster parents, scout leaders, priests, treatment programs, government programs, and more.

I saw the emotional and physical damage that men and women did to each other in their homes, in the bars and the cars out of a distorted version of love. Some were guns but most were with fists and tools of violence, easily grabbed, that had no bullets.

I saw the pain on the faces of grandparents, social workers, officers and other community members when they encountered the aftermath of each new violence.

I remember their sorrow
I remember their sorrow
I retired from Child Welfare last year but those faces and what they experienced remain with me like a second skin that expands and contracts with the beating of my heart.

I see the same weight of knowledge on my second husband Ray’s face these days as well. He has worked as a trauma therapist for decades with abuse victims and soldiers. Decades?

Decades! Sad isn’t it that we still have not learned as a society to stop the violence and the trauma?

Hyksos 1600BCE
Hyksos 1600BCE
75 years after the Jews were first sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp
150 plus years after the Civil War
300 years since 1000 Indians were killed near Detroit in the Fox Indian Massacre
393 years since the first Africans were captured and dragged as slaves to America
900 plus years since the start of the Crusades
4600 plus years since the first wheeled war wagons were used in Mesopotamia
and we still are killing and hurting and hating each other.

You know what? I detest what guns have done to my family and so many other families. I cannot look at a candle without seeing the 1000’s of lost lives.

I am deeply saddened by what violent hands, cigarette lighters, belts and vicious words have done to children.

I deplore what gangs have done to the young and to their communities across our country.

I am discouraged by what violent men and women have done to their partners – and yes women can be as cruel as men.

I am distressed by what prejudice in all its forms has done to the souls and bodies of those who hate and those who receive the hate. No one wins. All are hurt.

I am ashamed by what tanks and bombs and political B.S. have done to families in every country.

I am bewildered by what power-infected politicians, incompetent agencies and zealous Christians, Jews and Muslims have forced on us in the name of fixing the problem or curing the sins or turning the clock back to a “better time.”

I wish there was an answer or a quick fix or even a law that would end all the hurt. There isn’t.

A banner at Sandy Hook Elementary Dec 2012
A banner at Sandy Hook Elementary Dec 2012
What I do know is that . . .
“If we choose to remain ignorant of the conditions of our existence we will forever be controlled by them and by extension so will our children.”

And I do know that . . .
cutesy phrases and bumper stickers like “CONTROL GUNS AND ONLY CRIMINALS WILL HAVE GUNS” and “FIGHT CRIME. DEFEAT THE NRA” are simplistic slogans that are no substitute for genuine thinking and hard work, day after day after day.

And I know that . . .
we all have the capacity for violence. What first time parent walking a crying baby for hours has not said shut up to their child in a burst of quickly regretted, horrified frustration?

And I know the reality is . . .
Political debates and benefit concerts are big news for a short time but sorrow is forever.

careSo here is a thought. Maybe one of the answers is about what we hold to be important, what we value, what and who we respect. I mean for real, not just what we say we hold as important but what we actually do with our time and our efforts.

We may say we value peace and non violence and care about those children who died; but a week from now or a year from now? How much of each day do we actually focus on making a difference and on living a life committed to gentleness and nonviolence?

10958804_10155669491135494_1458876404156872401_nDo we speak out against racial remarks – every racial remark?

Do we refuse to pass on divisive jokes and strident, nasty emails and posts about the “other” political party, church or group?

Do we look at and think with respect for all people no matter their circumstances or their language?

12036993_10156063119925494_5344298508035423817_nDo we give of as much time and money to educating and helping others as we do to our politics or our own pleasure?

Do we manage our own emotions and not swear and say mean things when we are angry? Do we model kindness for those around us in all we do?

11253636_10155825259460494_2824775139769492100_nDo we speak with compassion about others who may not act or think like we want them to?

Do we spend as much time playing scrabble and watching PBS with our children as we do playing war video games and watching shoot ‘em up, blow’em up movies with them?

I know I could do better. I may not join the NRA or the gun control advocates. Actually I am sure I won’t do either. But I can do better and I can make a difference.

I may not be able to end all violence or even stop the grief and trauma. That takes our collective humanity.

What I can do is refused to add to the pain of others. I can refuse to bring any more hurt into this world.

You can too.

One plus one plus one, day after day we do have an impact. Will you join me right now, and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow?

(c)shaun brink 2015
all rights are the property of shaun brink
contact Shaun directly if you wish to copy or use any sections or photos in this blog


Post note October 2015
This is posted in honor of
Lucero Alcaraz, 19
Treven Taylor Anspach, 20
Rebecka Ann Carnes, 18
Quinn Glen Cooper, 18
Kim Saltmarsh Dietz, 59
Lucas Eibel, 18
Jason Dale Johnson, 34
Lawrence Levine, 67
Sarena Dawn Moore, 44

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One thought on “Please make a difference – a message from a family who knows loss.

  1. So beautifully said, Shaun. Keep writing…your words are wise and will hopefully open some minds and hearts.

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