The last time I heard my son’s voice
was when he walked out the front door
on his way to school.
He called out one word in the darkness:
It was April 20, 1999.
Later that morning,at Columbine High School,
my son Dylan and his friend Eric
killed 12 students and a teacher
and wounded more than 20 othersbefore taking their own lives.
Thirteen innocent people were killed,
leaving their loved onesin a state of grief and trauma.
Others sustained injuries, some resulting in disfigurement and permanent disability.
But the enormity of the tragedy
can’t be measured only by the number of deaths and injuries that took place.
There’s no way to quantifythe psychological damage
of those who were in the school,
or who took part in rescue or cleanup efforts.
There’s no way to assess the magnitude of a tragedy like Columbine,
especially when it can be a blueprint
for other shooters who go on to commit atrocities of their own.
Columbine was a tidal wave, and when the crash ended,
it would take years for the community and for society
to comprehend its impact.
It has taken me years to try to accept my son’s legacy.
The cruel behaviorthat defined the end of his life
showed me that he was a completely different person from the one I knew.
Afterwards people asked,
“How could you not know?
What kind of a mother were you?”
I still ask myself those same questions.
Before the shootings,I thought of myself as a good mom.
Helping my children become caring, healthy,
was the most important role of my life.
But the tragedy convinced methat I failed as a parent,
and it’s partially this sense of failure that brings me here today.
Aside from his father,
I was the one person who knew and loved Dylan the most.
If anyone could have knownwhat was happening,
it should have been me, right?
But I didn’t know.
Today I’m here to share the experience
of what it’s like to be the mother of someone who kills and hurts.
For years after the tragedy,I combed through memories,
trying to figure outexactly where I failed as a parent.
But there are no simple answers.
I can’t give you any solutions.
All I can do is share what I have learned.
When I talk to people who
didn’t know me before the shootings,
I have three challenges to meet.
First when I walk into a room like this,
I never know if someone therehas experienced loss
because of what my son did.
I feel a need to acknowledge
the suffering caused by a member of my family
who isn’t here to do it for himself.
So first, with all of my heart,
I’m sorry if my son has caused you pain.
The second challenge I have is
that I must ask for understanding and even compassion
when I talk aboutmy son’s death as a suicide.
Two years before he died,
he wrote on a piece of paper in a notebook
that he was cutting himself.
He said that he was in agony
and wanted to get a gun so he could end his life.
I didn’t know about any of this until months after his death.
When I talk about his death as a suicide,
I’m not trying to downplay the viciousness he showed
at the end of his life.
I’m trying to understand how his suicidal thinking led to murder.
After a lot of readingand talking with experts,
I have come to believe that his involvement
in the shootings was rooted not in his desire to kill
but in his desire to die.
The third challenge I have when I talk about my son’s murder-suicide
is that I’m talking about mental health —
excuse me — is that I’m talking about mental health,
or brain health, as I prefer to call it,
because it’s more concrete.
And in the same breath,I’m talking about violence.
The last thing I want to do is to contribute to the misunderstanding
that already exists around mental illness.
Only a very small percent of those who have a mental illness
are violent toward other people,
but of those who die by suicide,
it’s estimated that about 75to maybe more than 90 percent
have a diagnosablemental health condition of some kind.
As you all know very well,
our mental health care system is not equipped to help everyone,
and not everyone with destructive thoughts
fits the criteria for a specific diagnosis.
Many who have ongoing feelings of fear or anger or hopelessness
are never assessed or treated.
通常 只有达到行为危机时 他们才会引起我们的注意
Too often, they get our attention only if they reach a behavioral crisis.
If estimates are correct
that about oneto two percent of all suicides
involves the murder of another person,
when suicide rates rise,as they are rising for some populations,
the murder-suicide rateswill rise as well.
I wanted to understand what was going on
in Dylan’s mind prior to his death,
so I looked for answersfrom other survivors of suicide loss.
I did research and volunteeredto help with fund-raising events,
and whenever I could,
I talked with those who had survived their own suicidal crisis or attempt.
One of the most helpfulconversations I had
was with a coworker who overheard me talking to someone else in my office cubicle.
She heard me saythat Dylan could not have loved me
if he could do somethingas horrible as he did.
Later,when she found me alone,
she apologized for overhearing that conversation,
but told me that I was wrong.
She said that when she wasa young, single mother with three small children,
she became severely depressed and was hospitalized to keep her safe.
那时她坚信 自己死了 孩子们会生活的更好
At the time, she was certain that her children would be better off if she died,
so she had made a plan to end her life.
She assured me that a mother’s love was the strongest bond on Earth,
and that she loved her children more than anything in the world,
but because of her illness,
she was sure that theywould be better off without her.
What she said and whatI’ve learned from others
is that we do not make the so-called decision or choice to die by suicide
in the same way that we choose what car to drive or where to go on a Saturday night.
When someone isin an extremely suicidal state,
they are in a stage fourmedical health emergency.
Their thinking is impaired and they’ve lost access to tools of self-governance.
Even though they canmake a plan and act with logic,
their sense of truthis distorted by a filter of pain
through which theyinterpret their reality.
Some people can be very goodat hiding this state,
and they often havegood reasons for doing that.
Many of us havesuicidal thoughts at some point,
but persistent,ongoing thoughts of suicide
and devising a means to die
are symptoms of pathology,
and like many illnesses,
the condition has to be recognized and treated before a life is lost.
But my son’s deathwas not purely a suicide.
It involved mass murder.
I wanted to know how hissuicidal thinking became homicidal.
But research is sparseand there are no simple answers.
Yes,he probably had ongoing depression.
He had a personalitythat was perfectionistic and self-reliant,
and that made him less likelyto seek help from others.
He had experiencedtriggering events at the school
that left him feelingdebased and humiliated and mad.
And he had a complicated friendship
with a boy who shared his feelingsof rage and alienation,
and who was seriously disturbed,
controlling and homicidal.
And on top of this period in his life of extreme vulnerability and fragility,
Dylan found access to guns
even though we’d neverowned any in our home.
It was appallingly easyfor a 17-year-old boy to buy guns,
both legally and illegally,without my permission or knowledge.
And somehow, 17 yearsand many school shootings later,
it’s still appallingly easy.
What Dylan did that day broke my heart,
and as trauma so often does,
it took a toll on my body and on my mind.
Two years after the shootings,I got breast cancer,
and two years after that, I began to have mental health problems.
On top of the constant, perpetual grief
I was terrified that I would runinto a family member of someone Dylan had killed,
或被新闻记者采访 或面对愤怒的民众时 我会感到害怕
or be accosted by the press or by an angry citizen.
I was afraid to turn on the news,
afraid to hear myself being called a terrible parent or a disgusting person.
I started having panic attacks.
The first bout startedfour years after the shootings,
when I was getting readyfor the depositions
and would have to meetthe victims’ families face to face.
The second round startedsix years after the shootings,
when I was preparingto speak publicly about murder-suicide
for the first time at a conference.
Both episodes lasted several weeks.
The attacks happened everywhere:
in the hardware store, in my office,
or even while reading a book in bed.
My mind would suddenly lockinto this spinning cycle of terror
and no matter how I hard I tried
to calm myself downor reason my way out of it,
I couldn’t do it.
It felt as if my brainwas trying to kill me,
and then, being afraid of being afraid
consumed all of my thoughts.
That’s when I learned firsthand what it feels
like to have a malfunctioning mind,
and that’s when I trulybecame a brain health advocate.
With therapy and medication and self-care,
life eventually returned to whatever could be thought of as normal under the circumstances.
When I looked backon all that had happened,
I could see that my son’sspiral into dysfunction
probably occurredover a period of about two years,
plenty of time to get him help,
if only someone had known that he needed help and known what to do.
Every time someone asks me,
“How could you not have known?”,
it feels like a punch in the gut.
It carries accusationand taps into my feelings of guilt
that no matter how much therapy I’ve had I will never fully eradicate.
But here’s something I’ve learned:
if love were enough to stop someone who is suicidal
from hurting themselves, suicides would hardly ever happen.
But love is not enough, and suicide is prevalent.
It’s the second leading cause of death for people age 10 to 34,
and 15 percent of American youth
report having made a suicide plan in the last year.
I’ve learned that no matter how much we want to believe we can,
we cannot know or control everything our loved ones think and feel,
and the stubborn belief that we are somehow different,
that someone we love would never think of hurting themselves or someone else
can cause us to miss what’s hidden in plain sight.
And if worst case scenariosdo come to pass,
we’ll have to learnto forgive ourselves for not knowing
or for not asking the right questions
or not finding the right treatment.
We should always assume that someone we love may be suffering,
regardless of what they say or how they act.
We should listen with our whole being,
without judgments, and without offering solutions.
I know that I will live with this tragedy,
with these multiple tragedies, for the rest of my life.
I know that in the minds of many,
what I lost can’t compare to what the other families lost.
I know my struggledoesn’t make theirs any easier.
I know there are even some who think
I don’t have the right to any pain,
but only to a life of permanent penance.
In the end what I know comes down to this:
the tragic fact is
that even the most vigilant and responsible of us
may not be able to help, but for love’s sake,
we must never stop trying to know the unknowable.