Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

The Parkland killer’s trial is over. However, personal trials continue.

- By Howard Dvorkin

It’s been three months since the verdict for the Parkland mass murderer, and exactly five years since his horrible crimes. That seems like a long time ago. But for many of us, enough time will never pass.

On the second-to-last day of the trial, the first victim impact statement came from Debra Hixon. The Broward School Board member lost her husband, Chris Hixon, and in a measured yet emotional tone, she told the man who killed him:

“I wish nothing for you after today. I don’t care what happens to you. You’ll be sent to jail, you’ll begin your punishment, you’ll be a number — and for me, you will cease to exist. … I pray the media and the rest of our community also closes the door and that your name and existence will be erased from everyone’s conversati­on.”

I applaud Hixon’s bravery and her sentiment. Sadly, I know it won’t be easy to erase those conversati­ons. It will take even longer to dull the memories.

Three days after that tragedy on Feb. 14, 2018, I founded a charity called Parkland Cares. Its sole mission was to raise money for mental health counseling for the survivors, their families and any community members affected by the tragedy.

Parkland Cares is still around five years later. While we’ve expanded our mission to help all South Floridians with trauma counseling, the sad fact is we’ll never be able to say “mission accomplish­ed” with those whose lives changed forever on that Valentine’s Day.

The case is now closed, and the media has moved on. But what are the rest of us supposed to do? Counterint­uitively, for the murderer to be “erased from everyone’s conversati­on,” we need to talk about his awful deeds just a little bit more. Not publicly, but privately with therapists and each other.

I’ve learned over the years — and from the half-dozen mental-health providers Parkland Cares works with — that there are three guilty feelings we need to get rid of. Here they are, with comments from Parkland Cares-funded counseling agencies.

1. It’s OK to not feel OK

You might say: ”The trial has been over for weeks. We no longer have to hear about the murderer and his crimes. So why do I still feel awful? Why can’t I shake this feeling of fear or dread? Everyone else has moved on. They’re making plans for the future, and I seem stuck in the past. What’s wrong with me?”

Abby Mosher, Tomorrow’s Rainbow executive director: ”Just like physical wounds heal differentl­y for different people, so do emotional wounds. There’s no ideal timeline, and there’s no shame in still feeling grief. Our community will never return to the days before the shootings, so don’t put unreasonab­le expectatio­ns on yourself. The real question should be, ‘Is my grief interferin­g with my day-to-day life?’ If so, seek profession­al help — and realize it takes a brave person to do that.”

2. You don’t need to be there to be feel bad

Counterint­uitively, for the murderer to be “erased from everyone’s conversati­on,” we need to talk about his awful deeds just a little bit more. Not publicly, but privately with therapists and each other.

You might say: ”I wasn’t there on that awful day. Sure, my friends or my coworkers’ family members might have been, but I seem more affected today than they are. I haven’t earned the right to feel this bad so long after the trial has ended.”

Christine Frederick, FLITE Center CEO:

”Grief doesn’t discrimina­te, nor does it have a timeline for healing. It’s important to understand that grief comes in many different forms and at many different times. Practicing self-care and seeking help is essential for your well-being and finding your new norm. It takes courage to seek help when you need it.”

3. Don’t compare your feelings to others

You might say: “Other people are hurting from more recent tragedies, and they may have suffered more than I am. What gives me the right to feel bad?”

Ana Calderon Randazzo, Children’s Diagnostic & Treatment Center executive director: ”Tragedy doesn’t discrimina­te. What happens to others doesn’t negate how you feel. It’s essential to recognize that self-care is not a selfish act. Like the expression ‘put your oxygen mask on before you help others,’ it’s important we take care of ourselves if we expect to be healthy for those around us.”

If you’re experienci­ng any of these feelings — or any others that are keeping you from leading an emotionall­y healthy life — Parkland Cares can help. Learn more at ParklandCa­

Howard Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of, and founder of Parkland Cares.

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