We All Need to Take It Down a Notch









I am not posting this article to start a vaccine versus anti-vaccine debate. You may have that debate on your own page; I’m in no shape to host it. I am also not posting this to start a gun-rights versus gun-control debate. You may have that debate on your own page as well; I am in no shape to host that either.


This is about trolling. This is about going ad hominem on people that hold different beliefs than you do. This is about attacking people who are already vulnerable; in this case, bereaved parents and survivors of traumatic events.


I saw the CNN article on a friend’s page. One of her friends, an anti-vaxer, said she thought this story was fake. The story is real, and even if it’s not, I know this happens because it happened on the SUDC (Sudden Unexplained Death in Children) Foundation page several weeks ago. I also saw the trauma inflicted on so many parents who were already traumatized by having a child die suddenly for unknown reasons.


I also read about the Parkland shooting survivors’ suicides this week, and this morning I read about the Newtown father’s suicide. Devastating. Gutting. The Newtown shooting happened not long before Alice died. As many of you know, it made me physically ill. My first thought was, “I don’t know how any of those parents are going to even make toast again. If any of those parents can put one foot in front of the other ever again, I will be amazed.”  I had to stop watching the news after that shooting and I was not even directly impacted. I knew that the parents of those kids and teachers would not have the luxury of “taking a break from it” and this sickened me. I am working on a book, and my reaction to the Newtown shooting is in my introduction; that is how profoundly that story affected me and my “grieving process.” I still loathe that term, by the way.


Whether your agenda is vaccines or gun rights or gun control or Free Dress Fridays, attacking bereaved parents and survivors of traumatic events in order to push your agenda is unconscionable. Do we imagine those parents love their children less than we love ours? Did YOU ever walk in to find your otherwise healthy child dead in their bed? Were YOU ever a survivor of a mass shooting where you saw your friends and teachers lying in pools of blood while you feared for your own life? Did YOU ever get the call that someone went in and shot everyone in your six-year old child’s classroom? Who made us the judge of people we don’t know and whose story you do not know in full?


Let me tell you something: you may *think* you know how would handle a trauma the magnitude of these events, but YOU HAVE NO IDEA. I know, because I too used to think I knew how I would handle a trauma before I learned from experience that a good part your reaction is not being dictated by the part of your brain that handles executive functioning and decision-making. That goes offline for a period of time. Judge the reactions of trauma survivors and bereaved parents all you want; I truly hope you are never in a situation where you have to discover first-hand how ignorant you were in your judgements.


Although disappointing, demoralizing, and – as a bereaved parent – traumatizing, I am not surprised the trolling of these bereaved parents and shooting survivors happened. This is an unfortunate new normal; we “yell” at strangers online like we yell at people in cars. We can unleash our fury on that stranger without actually facing them or hearing their side of the story. We sit back, read one post that constitutes approximately two minutes of a person’s life, make our judgments, and then unleash all of our untapped fury onto their page while we are safe in our house. We do not look these people in the eye. We do not care to hear the whole story behind the whole person. We do not see the human, so we conveniently forget there is an actual human on the other side of our screen, a human with a story that would likely make us think twice about sending our untapped fury their way.


This has become so pervasive that now some people feel it is perfectly acceptable, necessary even, to seek out pages that support bereaved parents and then attack those parents for things that may not even be true. Anti-vaxers who attack SUDC parents have no idea whether I vaccinated my kid and vaccine-advocates that attack a mother whose child died are also not in the right.


“Fuck you, Hughes family.”


“What a fucking evil whore you really are.”


“Please Die.”


These were the messages sent to a couple that lost their one-month old son to whooping cough.


How anyone could think to do that is beyond my imagination. Would anyone actually have the cajones to say that to a grieving parent’s face?


“More than five years after the Sandy Hook massacre left 26 dead, Graney said the Soto family still gets death threats from trolls who don’t believe Victoria Soto was a real person. Graney was recently forced to report a woman to authorities after she threatened she was ‘going to Newtown with a gun and finishing the job.'” This quote, from Snopes, features Ryan Graney who volunteers to handle media for the family of Victoria Soto —a Newtown teacher who died while trying to protect her tiny students — because they have been inundated with threats.


I’m sorry, what? You are going to kill the family of a teacher who died in a mass shooting because you don’t think she was real? You know you can pull public records, right? You know that there are birth certificates and death certificates and social security cards and all sorts of sane ways to verify a person’s existence without threatening violence, right? Did you think to do that?


Jeremy Richman, whose daughter Avielle, was among those killed in Newtown was one of several parents involved in a defamation suit against Alex Jones who alleges the shooting never happened and that everyone involved was a “crisis actor.” Jones’ followers have harassed the Newton families — already traumatized by the gruesome deaths of their innocent children — for years. Today, he lost his life to suicide.


Alex Jones must live in a world where and thousands and thousands of people can keep a secret this hideous for years. They were all “in on it,” Alex, but yet not one person had leaked the truth you purport? That’s amazing. These people should all work for the White House, because they have a real problem with leaks from what I read.


“This is all fake your child did not exist” was sent to a mother who wishes to remain anonymous.


This is the one that really got me. My biggest fear after Alice died was that she would be forgotten, that people would be afraid to mention her and; therefore, I would have to rely on my own memories, which would inevitably morph into a never-ending loop of the same details. My second biggest fear is that I was no longer living in reality. It is not hyperbole to say that life as you know it explodes when your child dies. It’s not just the shock, it’s not just the grief, it’s the way in which you perceive and experience life changes completely and totally in a matter of seconds.


Here’s what happens:


  • The brain just cannot handle an immediate shift in perspective of that magnitude, so you become a stunned explorer of a world you never thought you’d see, or wanted to see.
  • You walk around, stupefied, attempting to figure out if the world around you is real, because suddenly, it all seems fake. It all seems like BS. It seems like, “Holy Moly! Elon Musk might be right!” It seems like you can see it but you can’t touch it because it’s but an apparition of the world you once knew. You don’t WANT the world to feel fake. You have no idea why you feel this way, but there is no denying that you do.
  • Then you wonder, “If it IS fake, does anyone else know? If so, where does one find those people because I have some questions about how I continue to move through a world I just discovered is fake, or whether I should even bother with it.”
  • The aforementioned does not lend itself to the feeling of security, so you end-up living in one of two states: a state of fearfulness or state of fearlessness.
  • Or, for a really fun ride, you can be like me and – without warning – vacillate between the two while seeming to have no control over your prevailing feeling.
  • You still don’t know what’s real. You wonder if your child was real or just a beautiful dream you had right before the worst nightmare of your life.
  • People are afraid to talk about your child, which feeds the fear that she will be forgotten as well as the fear that she might not have been real.
  • You swing back in to fearlessness and tackle the world around you, real or not, because it’s all you got.
  • This is not an easy way to live, but you live this way while you go through the motions of everyday life because there is no choice. People think you’re “better” because you go to work, raise another kid, and take her to do fun things on occasion. But you aren’t better. You will be a little better at one point, but you aren’t anywhere near better for quite awhile.
  • They want you to be better so that they don’t have to worry about you. They want you to be better so they can believe that they might get better if they were in your shoes.
  • You hate to disappoint.
  • Therefore, you let them see you when you are having a “better” day, and keep to yourself as much as possible on the “worse” days. She eventually begins to feel like memory, not a person. This brings you to your knees.
  • So you get a little worse, but you pull yourself up by the bootstraps and go about your day while everyone thinks you’re better and wonders why you don’t do more at your kid’s school.


And then some unhappy human sends you a threatening note that asserts your child never existed. Why? To what end? Did threatening a vulnerable person make them feel good for a moment? Do they think this will bring people over to their side?


Why do we need everyone to agree with us on every single thing? If our position is so secure why is blind anger our first response to a difference of opinion? Have we lost confidence in our ability to present our argument, or have we lost confidence in the others’ ability to hear it? In any event, although shouting may get you heard, it’s not going to get you understood. Trust me, I’m a mom; I have to relearn this lesson every week.


We all need to calm down and collectively decide we are going to change the tone of our rhetoric or we don’t get to complain when our representatives in government do not demonstrate decorum in their communications. If you don’t want anger directed at you, don’t direct it at others. It is possible to have rational discourse about tough issues. And it is definitely possible to not attack people who are already living their worst nightmare.


We post stories about people like Patton Oswalt who reached out to an online troll with compassion instead of returning the volley of fury. “We need more people like this!” we write. We repost inspiring stories from Humans of New York with captions such as, “You just never know the story of the person next to you; be kind always.” It makes us feel good for a moment. It makes us feel like we are part of the trolling/bullying solution. But, within days, or even minutes, we go back to slinging insults at people with different beliefs than we hold. We reposted that nice Humans of New York story so we still think that we are part of the solution. We don’t see that OUR angry, ad hominem posts as part of the bullying/trolling problem because “I’M RIGHT ABOUT THIS ONE AND BESIDES I POST INSPIRING STORIES OF PEOPLE COUNTERACTING ANGER WITH COMPASSION SO MY ANGRY INSULTS DO NOT COUNT.”


The thing that makes pages like Humans of New York so powerful is that the creator, Brandon Stanton, shows us a picture with a short statement by the subject. Those statements are generally something we would not expect from a “person who looks like that.” Brandon demonstrates, without proselytizing, that everyone has a heartbreaking story that we would never know as we pass them by. Suddenly, we experience compassion for a face we would have judged. Suddenly, we experience compassion for someone in a situation we would have judged. We applaud this, but we seem to have trouble applying this in our everyday life.


There are evil people in the world, but most of us are not evil. Not every person who is a vaccine-advocate is evil. Not everyone who is an anti-vaxer is evil. Not every Republican/Democrat/Pro-Lifer/Pro-Choicer/NRA member/gun control advocate is evil. If we could bring ourselves to sit down with someone whose beliefs are not in 100% alignment with ours and have an actual conversation with them, we might realize how they arrived at their beliefs and vice versa.  Yes, some of them are going to be pricks, but if we actually listen to understand instead of listening to attack, we will likely see that the other person loves their kids and their country also. Then, and only then, can we begin to find solutions to the many problems we face as a society. If we can’t speak rationally to people who hold different beliefs than we do, then we have to face this truth: we are more interested in being right and having our beliefs go unchallenged then we are in finding and implementing solutions.


Yelling at people does not change people’s minds, does not solve problems, and it does nothing to support your cause. Hurling insults at people does not change people’s minds. It will, in fact, more than likely cause them to double down on their beliefs. It also gives them good reason to think your side is intolerant.  Making death threats or wishing death to people who think differently than you do is not going to make them see the light and join your side. It is going to traumatize them, cause them to cling to the beliefs they already have, and can land your ass in jail, partner. This all creates further division. Problems are not solved by a divided populace. This is what “they” want. “They” can hoard money and power on the sly while we all sit on our computers and fight with people who are also just sitting around fighting with people on their computers.


I assume that the anti-vaxers who wrote these horrible things hold their position because they care about the welfare of children in general. There is nothing inherently wrong with that; caring about children is inherently loving. But if you resort to yelling, insulting, and threatening people, well, it’s awfully difficult to see the love behind the action because those actions are not loving. They are, in fact, incredibly destructive not only to the parent you are attacking, but to your own cause, because, once again, you aren’t going to win over any converts with those methods.


Try as I might, I cannot come up with a motive for the Alex Jones followers who threaten survivors that has any basis in love. Maybe they have love in their motive, but I cannot see it. Sorry.


I want to wrap every bereaved parent, and every parent with a chronically-ill child, in an impenetrable cloud of peace and love and rainbows and unicorns. Until then, don’t let the bastards get you down. Instead, do the thing that will not only save you, but will take fuel from the bastards’ fire: ignore the bastards and allow a friend to support you while you recover from the hurt.


  1. Tommy
    March 24, 2019

    Very well said and beautiful written. From all of us who worry about the damage done by the lack of civility in public discourse thank you for putting our Feelings into words in a way only you could!

    • Melissa
      March 24, 2019

      Thank you very much for your continued support, Lt. Colonel. It means the world to me and bereaved parents everywhere, I’m sure.

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