One of the most challenging assignments I've had as a writer was to interview a young mother who had lost her daughter in an inexplicable accident.
The family- 4-year old Lulu, 9-year old twin boys and their parents-were licking ice cream cones in the parking lot at a Cape Cod eatery one summer day. It started to sprinkle, and Lulu began dancing in the rain as her father caught the moment on video. She stepped onto the edge of a metal bike rack that wasn't properly bolted to the ground. It tipped over, landed on her chest and killed her instantly.
I interviewed Lulu's mother, Gretchan, more than a year after the accident to write about a project she was working on that she hoped would help other grieving families who had lost a child.
It was a heart-wrenching interview, but I learned something that day about the ways in which grief can be turned into something good. If Lulu's story could be used to inspire, Gretchan thought, then her life could transcend that horrible moment; it could mean something more than a teetering bike rack, or the last fleeting smile of a 4-year-old.
I thought about Gretchan as I watched the events unfold in Newtown, Conn. last week. While their children died in much different circumstances, the parents and family of the victims at Sandy Hook will grapple with the same question one day: How will we ever move on?
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Ethel Kennedy - a woman who has experienced a few of our country's most tragic events - in her Hyannis Port home at the Kennedy compound. Ethel has lost two sons and also lived through the deaths of her husband and brother-in-law.
She hadn't done an interview in 30 years, and she was nervous, but what struck me was the grace and composure she conveyed. Like Gretchan, she was able to chip away at the wall of sorrow and build a window using reflection and wisdom as her tools. I was struck by the thought that grief can be malleable.
We might call this path "the road to resilience."
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is ordinary rather than extraordinary. We see it demonstrated all of the time. People who have lived through tragedy and loss in their lives often find a way to move on, but it doesn't happen easily or by accident.
Experts say that those who build resilience best have a good support network of friends and family. They seek to develop a positive outlook toward their future and plan realistic, achievable goals. Perhaps most importantly, they use their sorrow as a tool for self discovery-whether by cultivating their faith or spirituality or discovering a greater appreciation for life.
Ethel Kennedy created a foundation in her husband's name that seeks to champion human rights throughout the world.
Gretchan created a foundation that empowers children to manifest their dreams. She also writes children's books with Lulu as the star.
It's good to share stories of resilience - and to remember that it is those who have suffered that often step up to make the world a better place.
While the quaint New England town in Connecticut continues the process of mourning, we, as their neighbors - as their countrymen - can carry the torch for them.
Jessica Lahey, a teacher at Crossroads Academy in Lyme, put it beautifully in her blog:
"... I am forced to admit that I may not always be able to keep my students safe and complete. I can, however, re-stock my tape drawer, and teach them how to hold their world together as we move forward as a community."
Move forward. That's what we do. As individuals and as Americans, we re-stock our tape drawers and hold it together.
And right now, we can show resilience for those who are not yet ready for the task.