Make Room For The Stuttering

Family Processes Tragedy Together

Posted on: July 25, 2012

Why am I writing about the senseless movie theater shootings that happened last week in Aurora, Colorado? Because I was in Aurora that night. I was at a conference for young people who stutter and their families. The locale was Denver, but our conference hotel was in Aurora.

Each year, Friends: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter holds an annual conference in a different major city. I have been fortunate to be part of this “extended family” since 2008, this year being my 5th conference.

I am not exaggerating when I use the word family. Friends was founded 15 years ago by a mom of a kid who stutters who wanted a support organization that was specific to the needs and goals of young people and their families who live with stuttering.

The attendees of that first conference are all grown up now, and still attend every year. They have grown up together, and each year welcomed new kids and parents to the family. People who know each other for 10 or 15 years and watch their kids grow up together are indeed family.

So it was not unusual for a group of  these kids, ages 14-22, to have planned in advance to go to the midnight premiere of the Batman movie in Aurora. The older brother of a young woman who stutters was with the group and had organized transportation.

No one could have expected that this small group of kids who stutter would have been affected by senseless tragedy. But they were indeed. Our Friends kids were in the next theater when a young man opened fire in the theater next door.

Bullets came through the wall, hitting one of our teens in the arm. At first, he didn’t realize he’d been hit.

In fact, many of the kids didn’t realize what was happening, as the loud “pops” of gunfire were at first thought part of the movie. But as smoke and screams filled the air, the Friends teens indeed knew they were in trouble. Their survival instincts, and love for each other, took over and they all calmly and quickly got out of that theater.

Accounts from the kids, who are survivors, and their parents can be found here (Gage and his parents) and here (Linnea and Melia and their mom’s account.)

I wasn’t at the theater. None of the adults who stutter or parents in our group were. I can’t provide an eye-witness account. So why am I writing about this?

I am reflecting on what can be learned from horrific random acts of violence. Because there are lessons learned.

When the calls and texts started coming in from the kids at the theater to the parents at the hotel, everybody acted together as family. Parents made sure that the parents of the kid who was shot got transported to the hospital. Parents made sure that the 14-year old brother who’d been at the theater was cared for all night and the next day. That call that is every parent’s worst nightmare was a little easier because so many other parents were there for support.

As the other kids returned to the hotel, shaken and emotional, the hotel staff were wonderful. They brought blankets, pillows, snacks and drinks, so the kids could stay together as a group in the lobby all night and process what they had experienced together.

In the morning, as news spread among the conference attendees, people wondered what would happen. Would the conference proceed? Would activities still happen?

The answers were YES and YES!  Normalcy needed to prevail. The group needed to come together in workshops and sessions and experience the love and support that is unique to FRIENDS. When 300 people who share stuttering and the impact of “too close to home” tragedy, the natural instinct is to continue on and share the love and support of family.

That is what I am writing about here – the healing nature of support and family. The kids who were in the theater helped each other by being together all weekend. The parents and families and adults who stutter helped each other by sharing and talking, hugging and crying together, all weekend.

The only change to the conference agenda was the addition of group counseling sessions late Friday morning that were made available to anyone in need. Teens, parents and friends of the kids affected took advantage.

It seems cliché to talk about how senseless tragedy brings people together, closer, or helps us see what good can result from a major tragedy. So I won’t say that.

The FRIENDS friends were already a supportive close-knit family. The power of family and unconditional love and support helped our FRIENDS family process the magnitude of these tragic events and keep talking and holding tight to each other.

And that is the power of support.

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© Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering, 2009 - 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Pamela A Mertz and Make Room For The Stuttering with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. Same protection applies to the podcasts linked to this blog, "Women Who Stutter: Our Stories" and "He Stutters: She Asks Him." Please give credit to owner/author Pamela A Mertz 2014.
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