Grief touches home, but solace students need may not be there

April 24, 2007|By Susan Reimer | Susan Reimer,Sun Columnist

Of all the photos to emerge from Virginia Tech last week, one is particularly telling.

A student is standing on a sidewalk, and at her feet lie a mesh laundry bag and a tote bag, a well-loved stuffed bear peeking out from its strap handles.

The photo caption says she is waiting for a ride home, but if a bag of laundry and a stuffed animal don't say "college student going home," I don't know what does.

A steady stream of students left campus last week in search of the comfort and safety of home. The university began making plans to grant students grades and credits for school work already completed, in case they decided not to return.

But many students stayed.

Several of them told reporters that they needed to be with their friends. Not just because of their shared tragedy, I think, but because of all the sharing that had gone before.

It struck me that our college-age children have one foot in each of two worlds, and the tragedy of Virginia Tech served as a profound illustration of that fact.

The students who went home believed they would find solace there, but I am wondering how many of them turned right around and returned to campus in time for classes to start yesterday.

I wonder how they felt in their childhood bedrooms, knowing so completely that they are not children anymore. I wonder whether those rooms looked strangely unfamiliar, as if seen again many years later.

I wonder how they felt knowing their siblings, their neighborhood friends and old school buddies were forever separated from them because of a devastation no one else shared. I wonder whether that distance grew with each new attempt to describe, to explain.

I wonder how many felt that the hugs and comfort food from Mom and Dad could not touch the horror they now carry inside. I wonder how many students grieved for the kid they no longer were.

The killings at Virginia Tech serve as a vivid break in the lives of those college students between family and the other world - the world of peers, the world of experiences family does not share and cannot understand.

That break will happen for all our children - I pray it will happen in a less sudden and horrible way - but it will happen.

It is the emotional equivalent of not coming home for Thanksgiving, of celebrating with friends instead. That decision isn't always about the cost of an airplane ticket or about getting time off at the office.

Someday soon - sooner than we wish, because we might never wish for it - our children will move out on us in a way that has less to do with their own apartment than we think. It will be because they are sinking their emotional roots in new soil. Among friends and co-workers. Among their own kind.

The pain for us as parents will come, as I imagine it did for some of the Virginia Tech parents, when we realize that we are no longer what our children need.

That we are not the answer, the solution or the solace that they seek.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.