#WearOrange: June 2nd and 3rd.



I’ve never gone to a rally of any kind in my life, nor do I consider myself an activist. Then I received a text from Everytown for Gun Safety. I felt compelled to act.

I clicked on the #WearOrange link and found that there was an event coming up in my hometown of Austin. I studied the page, and began to sign up. I fill in boxes, entering my name, address and phone number. I was ready to submit. Then I squirmed in my seat. Do I really want to do this? Am I really ready to support an anti-gun organization?

I closed the page.

Before signing I wanted to learn more. I went to the Everytown homepage, read their agenda. They support background checks and want to prohibit domestic violence abusers from obtaining firearms. Okay, I can agree with that. They also want to strengthen penalties for gun traffickers, plus help pass laws to require safe storage of firearms in hopes of preventing accidental deaths. I sit at the website and remember my own story about accidental gun death.

Penalties, laws, check and check. When I first signed up to receive Everytown texts, preventing gun accidents was the main reason. I believe Jon would be alive today if people were responsible and could be held accountable for storing guns safely.

I wonder if that’s cause enough to be attending the rally, though. I decided to submit the form. But afterward I had second thoughts, wondering how many of the people attending will be gun owners, or how many will have a son like my younger son Lance—a boy who collects guns and supports the Second Amendment.

As I’m thinking about this Lance walks in the door, followed by my younger son Keaton. It’s Memorial Day. Sure, it’s a holiday to honor people killed in action. I wonder if there’s ever going to be a day like that to honor gun violence victims.


Maybe that day is coming after the tragedy at Sandy Hook. On that day I sat glued to the television watching young mothers sob over the loss of their children. I tried to fathom what was happening, but I felt the loss for my son all over again. He died at the hand of a gun, an accident that was ruled a suicide, a ruling that was a mistake. Jon had been gone three years when Sandy Hook hit us all. I couldn’t block out the images of those mothers and their pain on that day. Children should outlive their parents.

My first impulse after Sandy Hook was to write President Obama. What I received back looked more like a fan mail reply, and so that waste of letterhead ended up in my trashcan. It became one more thing to change my values, though. I believe in the safety that police and deputies must ensure, belief in a compassionate God. The tragedy at the school on that day sparked me, as well as a lot more people. We can’t count on anyone in power to do everything that matters. We must rely on ourselves, working together. Otherwise, like I did, we’ll get the auto-reply of the Sandy Hook Response Letter.

After Sandy Hook I did some research, trying to figure out who could speak for me, or just with me. In those months after Jon’s death I hated guns. I wanted them all confiscated, destroyed and melted down to a disposable liquid. I lost my son to the recklessness of a gun owner.

But my hatred for guns subsided when Lance announced his desire to collect guns. Guns are a part of our culture. Even with what happened to Jon, I will always be a mother of three. All three of my boys grew up in our home of guns—cap guns, BB guns, paintball guns, air-soft guns, and hunting guns. One of them now collects firearms.

I asked my new collector to wear his orange this week. My box of Everytown shirts is on my doorstep today. Lance said he’s glad to wear a shirt, because he’s a gun owner with a sharp eye for safety who knows the bulls-eye is responsibility. He may not join me at this weekend’s #WearOrange rally. But he knows there’s more we all can do to end gun violence.

Mother’s Day


An excerpt from my memoir At Close Range, the story of my journey to a reckoning over the accidental shooting death of my oldest son Jon

Like all of those other holidays since Jon’s accidental death, I feel a shortness of breath and sweaty palms long before the actual day. This day of celebration comes with an added suffering, though—I wonder how I can be considered a good mother. No matter how many cards my two surviving boys send to my heart that day, I know I will always be a mother of three.

I find myself afraid of the day’s tradition because I carry secret shame. I wasn’t there in Jon’s time of need. I was 1,100 miles away when my child died. I feel the guilt escalate with every page that comes off the calendar leading to my special Sunday. This will be another, deeper first.

I’ve been admired by my children. I keep boxes in which I store their handmade cards, decorated with colorful yarn and white paper plates with finger-painted handprints. These cards from earlier Mother’s Days carry sweet and short poems that exaggerate the praise of motherly deeds. I don’t deserve that. On this First, my guilt stays private, even to the people I love the most.

My guilt is my secret alone. Randy and the boys have managed to put this mistake on the death certificate aside. They say it’s a piece of paper that doesn’t matter. They already know the truth. I am not in that place of certainty. I am still on trial and the evidence is most personal on this Mother’s Day. It’s a holiday all my own, a day I’m supposed to feel good in a way my other family members do not. I feel different today, not special. I fear I am the one to blame the most for this First.

The day for mothers arrives too early to me. I need solitude. Fortunately Randy is a weekend golfer. The sun barely has time to rise over the fence, casting shadows in the oak trees before he kisses me good-bye.

“Happy Mother’s Day,” he says. “I’ll finish my round early so I can make brunch for everyone.” Not everyone, I think. My heart is an egg carton with one missing. One plate will be empty at that brunch.

Randy has a reputation for making the best scrambled eggs. He learned from his grandfather, something no one else in our family can duplicate. You cook scrambled eggs slowly, he says, and he adds milk and Velveeta. I wish for something I might add to enjoy this brunch. It’s joy, I guess. And it’s up to me to find that joy, after all. I will just play for the next point in this match.

While Randy is on the golf course I attend Unity Church with my mom. I have been going every week since Jon’s death. I offer prayers as some sort of atonement. Most Sundays I leave the sanctuary with a warm fuzzy feeling, but afterwards the pointlessness settles in. I sit in the pew, week by week, and am not sure what my belief is anymore.

But my mom loves Unity and no matter what I believe, I go to please her on this Mother’s Day. I drag myself to my mirror, putting on my favorite tinted lip-gloss, blush, and mascara but the reflection doesn’t lie. I realize all the make-up in world can’t hide a mother in mourning. I try to change my mood as I head out the door to meet her.

In typical Unity fashion our morning starts with a meditation. The minister tells us to picture all the mothers we can think of and surround them in a heart-space of pink, radiating a light of love. Later, there’s a sermon that praises all women of the mystics, and again the overall theme is love.

Mom pats my hands before we leave, and looks at me with her bright blue eyes. “Wasn’t that wonderful?”

I nod for the sake of not spoiling the moment, but her attention has already been redirected, because mom’s a celebrity at Unity with a congregation of friends. A group of women comment on her youthfulness, and how she looks likes my sister and not my mother. It’s a comment that can drive me nuts. But I realize it’s also a compliment.

I make my way up the aisle as she talks and I turn to look back at her. Mom has aged with grace in spite of her heartaches. She doesn’t run or hide when facing life’s difficulties, pain and uncertainty. She lost her brother to kidney failure and weathered that sorrow, and now she’s lost her grandson. I have someone to model while I feel my way through this first Mother’s Day after I’ve lost Jon. Maybe she’s put her pain aside. I walk back and notice her blush as she revels in the attention from her friends. I don’t want to stick around, so I tell her I’ll see her at the house for brunch. I kiss her cheek and walk away proud, hoping I’ll share more than her youthful complexion.

When I walk through the door, fresh flowers and cards sit on the bar that separates the kitchen from the living room. Randy’s cooking while the boys are milling around upstairs. They both lean over the stairwell shouting down, “Happy Mother’s Day Mom. Love you.”

“Thanks guys.” I smile. “Your Mimi will be here shortly.” I look at the cards, Randy’s handwriting on one, and the others from Keaton and Lance. But I can feel a piece of my heart missing. Randy walks and gently kisses my cheek.

“What’s that for?” I ask.

“You just needed it,” he says, walking back to the kitchen.

We all need love in the midst of sorrow, and I learned to make my own on Mother’s Day. I noticed my younger friends on Facebook displaying the same sappy Mother’s Day creations my children made. It hit me hard. I didn’t feel like a part of these traditions, but I wanted to show the world I was loved.

I went to my closet and opened Jon’s keepsake box and dug right down to his School Days book. Inside were pictures of him from kindergarten to middle school, and in between each grade was an envelope where I placed report cards and other icons. I had not looked in that school days book in many years.

When I pulled out the pieces from the 7th grade, I noticed a crinkled, sheet of folded white, blue-ruled paper. I unfolded his message from middle school.

Dear Mom,

Of all the millions of things I thought to give you this was my best idea. Although it is worth nothing, it’s from the heart. This is a reminder that when I am a horrible kid, you’ll remember this present, and know you’re the best mother I could ever have. I love you and always will, even if I’m my maddest at you, I hope you can forgive us for all the bad things we ever did. YOU ARE THE BEST MOM EVER! You help me when I am sad. You soothe me when I’m mad, I’ll always remember your forgiveness.

P.S. It’s a little early. Happy Mother’s Day!

As I read this something inside me changed. I’m getting a gold star like on a kindergarten report card. For so long, my hopes and dreams died with Jon, even though I had two other children who needed and loved me. I posted that letter on Facebook, not even bothering to wait for my friends to Like it. Instead, I frame it for myself.


The First Christmas Is Hardest

christmas-ornament-701309_1920Seven years have passed, and today like other cold December days I feel I am in A Charlie Brown Christmas. My soft sigh of “Ugh” goes unnoticed. Nobody lets you hate Christmas. Nobody wants to hate it, either. Not me, a mom who made Christmas a big “Love You” to her boys. Then I lost one but had to go on smiling—for my other boys, my husband, my friends. Holidays slap me in the face again and again. It was hard at first. It was my holiday Firsts after Jon died, like Christmas, that were the hardest.

In that first holiday season I am lost in a blur of grief and a fog of what to do. My husband Randy does his part to help me get started, and he does it first. He brings in the Christmas storage boxes from the garage and climbs into the attic for the artificial tree. One by one he places them in our Austin living room. There sit two storage tubs filled with stockings, my collection of Santas, the garland, lights, and a wreath.

I take a deep breath and sit down in front of the tubs. The remembering and nostalgia carry me back to what I’ve lost. Memories fly at the speed of Santa’s sleigh—Jon’s needlepoint stocking, the hanger that holds a picture of him that will now never change from year to year, never grow older like his school photos once did. In another tub rest Jon’s special ornaments, the ones Randy’s stepmother’s Sue gave as gifts each year. When Jon was born she bought his first ornament, porcelain baby booties.

“I’m going to buy him an ornament each year,” she said. “Until his 21st birthday.”

“Why stop at 21?”

“Because I think it will give him a good start. After he gets engaged, he can take those ornaments when he starts up life with his fiancée. Once he has his own Christmas with someone special, they’ll have 21 ornaments to start with.”

Today, the first Christmas since his death, a piece of my broken heart is packed with each of those ornaments.

I am stung by the years of the collection, by watching Jon grow up and slowly staking his claim on the stocking with Santa in cowboy boots, or the jolly old elf swinging a golf club. But there are other ornaments too—a cross symbolizing our faith, and a red, white and blue ball for our country after the 9/11 attack.

Those booties she bought Jon on that birth day are still stored in the original box, his name written on the bottom along with the year: 1985. He was only 23. No more ornaments will come from Grandma Sue. Now no one will ever receive those ornaments to start a family.

I hang the last of Grandma Sue’s ornaments on the Christmas tree and feel the stress building. I am not over his death, sudden and stunning, an accident with a gun. It takes all my energy to stay afloat and live my quiet, secret lie of celebrating Christmas.

Don’t get me wrong. I love driving by the houses in our neighborhood, seeing the red-ribboned wreaths, the strings of Christmas lights, and the golden mechanical deer. I love the smell of a freshly cut evergreen and Nat King Cole’s crooning about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But no matter how long it’s been, holidays will never become easier without my son. So now I work on my walk to a different Star of Bethlehem—one that shines with grief as well as joy.

The New Talk

HandgunSafetyThe gun was there because it was a room with young adults, after an evening of drinking, and they did not bring enough education and training before that deadly moment—the one when an accident ended Jon’s life and turned mine into years of recovery from grief and loss.

It’s not the ownership legality that put that handgun in the room, or countless other rooms where people have died. Not enough of us are thinking of the responsibility that handgun ownership should demand. They are not toys or hobbyist’s power tools. Handguns are weapons designed to kill. There was no effort in North Carolina, where Jon died, to make them safer by instructing those college kids how to live in a world with weapons everywhere.

If the punishment for unsafe gun ownership falls outside of our laws, in only a personal and private judgment, what do we learn about safety? Drunk driving is an offense even without a fatality. Unsafe gun ownership can be a similar matter, if we have the courage and love to make it as important as The Talk. We need The New Talk, about guns. Continue reading “The New Talk”