The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Lionel Shriver By Tom Mauser By Michael Berger

When Se­ung Hui Cho shot him­self in the head, he so oblit­er­ated his fea­tures that he was un­rec­og­niz­able. Thus there pro­ceeded a brief, mer­ci­ful in­ter­val dur­ing which the iden­tity of the per­pe­tra­tor of last Mon­day’s killing spree at Vir­ginia Tech was un­known. He was lit­er­ally face­less.

Would that he had re­mained so. In­stead, that strangely slack, ab­sent-eyed coun­te­nance is now per­ma­nently burned into our col­lec­tive cul­tural con­scious­ness.

Even more than th­ese grue­somely gra­tu­itous in­ci­dents them­selves, I have come to dread the cam­pus shoot­ing’s rit­ual me­dia af­ter­math — a sec­ondary wave of atroc­ity, all con­ducted un­der the guise of grief, soul-search­ing con­cern and an os­ten­si­ble de­ter­mi­na­tion to en­sure that no de­mented loner ever Lionel Shriver’s new novel, “The Post-Birth­day World,” was pub­lished last month by HarperCollins.

LITTLETON, Colo. can re­late to the hor­ri­ble pain felt by so many par­ents of the Vir­ginia Tech vic­tims. Eight years ago, I lost my 15-year-old son, Daniel, at Columbine High School.

Like the rings em­a­nat­ing from an earth­quake, this latest school shoot­ing has af­fected many lives. The par­ents and friends in the epi­cen­ter have been shat­tered by the loss of a loved one and will progress through the stages of grief. Stu­dents who sur­vived may face “sur­vivor’s guilt.” The com­mu­nity will feel torn as it hears of law­suits and ac­cu­sa­tions that po­lice, the univer­sity or oth­ers failed to pre­vent the mas­sacre.

Th­ese ex­pe­ri­ences will be painful, but they are also nat­u­ral, ex­pected and nec­es­sary. As much as pos­si­ble they should be viewed as chal­lenges rather than bur­dens.

ITom Mauser is pres­i­dent of the board of the gun con­trol group Colorado Cease­fire.

BLACKS­BURG, Va. came to Vir­ginia Tech in the fall of 2003, fol­low­ing my sis­ter, Kelly, who was in the class of 2005. Now I’m a se­nior, a his­tory ma­jor with a Rus­sian lan­guage mi­nor, and un­til two weeks ago, I was man­ag­ing ed­i­tor of the stu­dent news­pa­per, the Col­le­giate Times. I’ve had a great time here, but even be­fore last Mon­day, I was look­ing for­ward to grad­u­at­ing on May 12, mov­ing on and start­ing a new life.

Then came the shoot­ings. Now I want to grad­u­ate more than ever.

But it’s an un­easy feel­ing. To be hon­est, most of us who weren’t di­rectly af­fected by last week’s shoot­ings are still search­ing for the proper emo­tion. A few of my friends are griev­ing for peo­ple they knew. For many of the rest of us, the sad­ness comes mostly from the sense of hor­ror and the

IMichael Berger, of Ar­ling­ton, is a se­nior at Vir­ginia Tech.

I sug­gest that all those af­fected by this tragedy, re­gard­less of how far they are from the epi­cen­ter, ac­knowl­edge a few things. First is the need to re­main fo­cused on griev­ing for the peo­ple whose lives were cut short last Mon­day, and not be too dis­tracted by anger and ac­cu­sa­tions. There will be time for that. An im­por­tant part of that griev­ing is talk­ing — whether it is talk­ing to a grief coun­selor or a friend or ex­plain­ing the tragedy to one’s child. Next is the need to un­der­stand that we all grieve dif­fer­ently, and that we shouldn’t let other peo­ple tell us how to grieve.

I think it is im­por­tant to avoid re­fer­ring to the killer by name or eth­nic­ity. He should be sim­ply “the killer.” He should be af­forded no spe­cial recog­ni­tion, for he de­serves none. In­stead, the names of the vic­tims should be men­tioned of­ten, and their loss should never be forgotten. We best honor them by cel­e­brat­ing their lives, read­ing about their ac­com­plish­ments and do­ing good things in their name.

The fam­i­lies in tragedies like this can ex­pect a bar­rage of me­dia at­ten­tion. It’s im­por­tant for them to rec­og­nize that they have no obli­ga­tion to speak to any­one in the me­dia. It’s their choice and no­body else’s. Some peo­ple may be com­fort­able speak­ing up, oth­ers may not. For some, speak­ing about one’s own ex­pe­ri­ence may pro­vide some com­fort, while for oth­ers it may worsen the grief. And if some do choose to speak up, there is noth­ing wrong with an­swer­ing only the ques­tions with which they are com­fort­able.

Many things can ad­vance the heal­ing process. The fam­i­lies of the Columbine vic­tims formed Heal­ing of Peo­ple Ev­ery­where (HOPE), with the goal of rais­ing enough fund­ing to re­move the li­brary where 10 of our chil­dren were killed, con­vert it into an open atrium and build a new li­brary. HOPE suc­cess­fully raised more than $3 mil­lion and met its goal.

As a re­sult of that work, the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies de­vel­oped spe­cial bonds. I pray there will be op­por­tu­ni­ties for the Vir­ginia Tech par­ents to meet and share their grief. Af­ter all, no­body else knows what you’re go­ing through like those who’ve suf­fered the same loss.

The fam­i­lies of the vic­tims also found heal­ing through adop­tion, men­tor­ing, char­i­ta­ble projects and be­com­ing spir­i­tual lead­ers.

A num­ber of things aided my fam­ily in the heal­ing process. Shortly af­ter the Columbine mas­sacre, we es­tab­lished a Web site ( www. daniel­mauser.com) on which we tell the story of our son’s life in words and pic­tures and de­scribe the things we have done in his me­mory. Through the Web site, we con­tinue to re­ceive touch­ing words of con­do­lence and re­flec­tions on Daniel’s life from all over the world. We also found much heal­ing in adopt­ing a baby from China, and in rais­ing money for col­lege schol­ar­ships and the con­struc­tion of both a school and a li­brary in Gu­atemala.

Our adopted daugh­ter, Made­line, who is 7, has brought great joy to my wife and me and to our 21-year-old birth daugh­ter. We don’t see her as a re­place­ment for Daniel; no one can be that. We felt that the time we would have given to nur­tur­ing Daniel could be given to an­other child who needed it. We of­ten talk to Made­line about her won­der­ful brother. She knows he is dead, but we have not yet told her how he died.

Our faith in God also helped us in our heal­ing. I feel strongly that we should ask our­selves whether our loved ones in heaven would want us to be in per­pet­ual and ag­o­niz­ing grief. I think not. I be­lieve they would want us to be in a bet­ter place, here on Earth. So while we should mourn be­cause of our pro­found loss, and should not hes­i­tate to do so, we also should not be­come so de­spon­dent that we al­low our lives to be ru­ined by grief.

Be­cause my son was so en­gaged in so­cial is­sues in de­bate class and spoke to me about our na­tion’s weak gun laws, I also chose to honor him by be­com­ing an ad­vo­cate for stronger gun laws that ad­dress the is­sue of our shame­ful rate of gun vi­o­lence in this coun­try.

Those who lost loved ones will prob­a­bly find it es­pe­cially hard to deal with their child’s birth­day, with Mother’s Day, Fa­ther’s Day, hol­i­days and, of course, April 16, a new an­niver­sary they will never be able to es­cape. There will be mun­dane events that gen­er­ate a pro­found sense of loss. It can be as sim­ple as driv­ing past a place they once took their child for a ball­game, or think­ing of a place they’ve been to and wish­ing their child could have seen it, or see­ing a child whose profile re­minds them of their own son or daugh­ter.

And they’ll feel ad­di­tional pain the next time there is an­other school shoot­ing. For, sadly, there will be more. That’s why we should ded­i­cate our­selves, in honor­ing th­ese chil­dren who lost their lives so sense­lessly, to do more to pre­vent fu­ture school shoot­ings.

We can do so by bet­ter ed­u­cat­ing our­selves about how to un­der­stand when a per­son is po­ten­tially sig­nal­ing an in­tent to com­mit vi­o­lence. We can do so by find­ing more ef­fec­tive ways to di­rectly in­ter­vene in the lives of dis­af­fected and alien­ated youth, of­fer­ing more men­tal health coun­sel­ing and putting more pres­sure on our in­sti­tu­tions and me­dia to re­duce the numb­ing cel­e­bra­tion of vi­o­lence. Sadly, be­cause we are such a large, im­per­sonal so­ci­ety that val­ues its in­di­vid­ual rights and pri­vacy, and one that of­ten dis­cour­ages so­cial in­ter­ven­tion, it will be very dif­fi­cult to ac­com­plish all those tasks. But that is no rea­son to give up.

We should not con­tinue to be so sur­prised by th­ese vi­o­lent acts and to blame them on the younger gen­er­a­tion. We must face the fact that to a large ex­tent our youth are sim­ply mod­el­ing us, re­flect­ing the vi­o­lent and un­civil so­ci­ety we have made. And we can­not af­ford to ig­nore the ele­phant in the liv­ing room. We must face the fact that we are unique in the in­dus­tri­al­ized world in that we have the weak­est gun laws, poor so­cial at­ti­tudes to­ward firearms, the high­est rate of firearm own­er­ship, the most lethal types of firearms and, not coin­ci­den­tally, by far the high­est gun-death rate.

If hav­ing more guns and fewer re­stric­tions made us safer, we should be the safest na­tion in the free world. Clearly we are not. It is time for change.

When­ever I speak at events on vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion, I wear my son’s shoes — lit­er­ally. Daniel wore the same size shoe as I, so on th­ese oc­ca­sions, I put on the ten­nis shoes he was wear­ing the day he was killed. It’s a very hum­bling ex­pe­ri­ence. I do it to sym­bol­ize that I am walk­ing in his place to pro­mote a safer world. And I do it to im­part the mes­sage that no other par­ent should have to be in the tragic po­si­tion of walk­ing in their child’s shoes.

And yet to­day, sev­eral dozen more par­ents are do­ing just that. I can only walk with them.




Tak­ing ac­tion: Tom Mauser, at an anti-NRA rally in 1999, says that get­ting in­volved can help a griev­ing par­ent.

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