The forgotten victim: Nancy Lanza

Susan Reimer says excluding Adam Lanza's mother from the lists of victims shows that we blame her for her son's atrocities

December 26, 2012|Susan Reimer

The philosopher Kahlil Gibran's meditation on children is a touching favorite among parents who have read "The Prophet."

In it, he captures perfectly the helplessness we feel as our children go out into the world, into the future, and necessarily leave us behind. He writes to us, "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth."

While we understand that we cannot set the path of the arrow across the infinite or mark its landing, we want to believe that we are "the bow that is stable," that our strength and love will help our children go swift and far.

I am sure Nancy Lanza wanted to be that bow for her son, Adam, who killed her and then 20 schoolchildren and six women who cared for them in Newtown, Conn.

By all accounts, she was devoted to her son and may have been, in the days just preceding his rampage and suicide, hopeful about a new school that might help her bright but troubled child.

But almost no one counts her among his victims. It is 26 Christmas trees, angels, candles or acts of kindness that we most often hear about. Not 27.

Nancy Lanza was shot four times in the head while she may still have been sleeping, but a distinction has been made between her and the "innocent victims."

Even President Barack Obama, when he visited the town, called out the names of each of the dead but did not mention hers. The funeral home that transported her body to family in New Hampshire asked not to be identified.

The world blames her, at least in part, for what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School because she had guns and because she apparently tried to teach her son how to use them responsibly. She was not the strong bow, we have decided. She was the match that lit the fuse.

I care deeply about what kind of mother I have been to my children — more than any other legacy I might leave. And I have been at times consumed with regret, remorse and uncertainty.

I believe Nancy Lanza felt the same way about the decisions she had made for and about Adam, perhaps more so because his life was fraught with intractable mental health problems. He was crippled, but not in a way that brought sympathy — no crutches or wheelchair. His broken parts were invisible and engendered fear.

So I am relieved for her, in a sad, sad way. Relieved that she did not live to witness the judgment of not just family and friends but the entire nation on her worth as a mother. Knowing what her son had done would bring grief and despair. The blame for it would have been a burden hard to imagine.

Nancy Lanza kept Adam's troubles mostly behind the doors of the house they shared, but we are hearing bits and pieces about his slide from shy and awkward into what may have been full-blown schizophrenia, which often masks itself and resists treatment.

Without the daily companionship of Adam's father or of his older brother, without the intimate support of close friends or the right professionals, it appears she was on her own in coping with him, in caring for him, in making decisions about him.

And we have pretty much concluded that she failed, horribly, at the one job she had to do: be his mother.

They say there is no greater pain for a parent than to outlive a child. But if Nancy Lanza had outlived Adam, she would have reaped the whirlwind. At her feet would not be bouquets and teddy bears as a tribute to her loss, but the blood of innocent children and the gentle women who taught them.

To the words that have been written about the victims of Newton, let me add this tribute to Nancy Lanza: I am certain that she wanted to be the best mother she could be. Just like the rest of us. If she stumbled and failed, it was not for want of trying.

Susan Reimer's columns appear Mondays and Thursdays. She can be reached at and @Susan Reimer on

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