I had just finished writing my monthly column for the COPE April Newsletter when I turned the TV on and saw a commercial for 60 Minutes, a news show on CBS. Not a show I ever watch, the teaser for the next segment caught my attention. An interview was next, with Sandy and Lonnie Phillips. Their daughter was killed in the mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
When asked about their loss, they spoke about the rules of grief they read and how they threw them out when they saw they were just not right for them. They described the public response that shocked them—websites saying their daughter was alive, that she was living elsewhere, her parents and media were liars, it was all fake news. The extraordinary abuse they endured and the terrifying helplessness they experienced brought me to tears.
What Mr. and Mrs. Phillips did, in this nightmare, was to pack up their things, get a trailer and start to travel all over the country. Their goal– to support other victims of mass shootings hoping to make the grief of others more manageable. They are extraordinary people. Tragically, they have too many places to visit, too many mass shooting victims and survivors to comfort.
However, there was a moment in the interview when Mrs. Phillips said she had lost her identity as a mother, that she felt she was no longer the mother of her daughter now that she was gone. I thought of a piece that Sherry Radowitz, a COPE parent and Board member, and a friend for over 40 years, wrote called, “I Am Still Your Mother .” Sherry has always felt a strong spiritual connection to her son. Gone for over 11 years, her memories, her heart, are still wrapped around the young man she lost and the boy she raised. Family memories, albums of photos, stories shared by his friends and classmates are what she holds close now, all reminders of her son and the family he grew up in. While alive only in the hearts and minds of his family, and the community who got to know him, Sherry is still his mother.
I hope that Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, with all that they have lost, and with all that they are doing for others, remember that they are still their daughter’s parents. No one else gets a say in that. No one gets to take that away.
– Sandy Wolkoff, COPE Board President
Click here to watch the interview.