by Francesca Zelnick

The Language of Loss


One of my least favorite phrases in the English language is “everything happens for a reason.” But I understand why people like to say it. I understand why they want to believe it. I understand the need for the language of loss.

It is a difficult language, because it can never really be spoken. We try, of course, in whatever way we can – through writing, through art, through clichés and mixed metaphors. We try to express hurt and sympathy and empathy and comfort. But it never really feels like enough.

I am struggling to find words about what happened today in Connecticut. It is a grief no phrase can ease. It is a tragedy that cannot be explained, in any language. It is something that happened without reason.

There is no reason for the murder of innocent children. There is no reason for guns to be so easily accessible. There is no reason why the phrase “school shooting” should be a part of our cultural lexicon. There is no reason why a parent should have to bury their child. There is no reason for this violence. It is reasonless.

There are no words. But there is need for conversation. There is need for more than sympathy and prayers and the language of loss. There is need for change, which can start from language, but cannot end there. We need action, as individuals, and as Americans, and as human beings. We need to move toward something better. What happened today is reason enough.

What happened today has happened before. And each time it is shocking and appalling and saddens us in every way possible. And each time we become fluent in the language of loss, we share in a mutual grief, we post images and words and expressions of our sorrow. We call our parents. We hug our children. We hope for the future.

But then we move on, because that is the way of things, because if life had to stop each time we encountered tragedy, the world would always stand still.

We have to keep moving. But we can choose the direction. We can choose to say this isn’t right. We can choose to keep shouting until we are heard. We can choose to address the conversations we aren’t having. We can choose to participate in them.

What happened today has happened before, and it is more than a pattern and lesson in grief. It is a discussion that is taking place without words. It is a plea for need.

Need for change. Need for gun control. Need for mental healthcare. Need for safety. Need for unity. Need for education. Need for love. Need for a future where our children don’t have to fear their own classroom, where they don’t have to practice “lockdown drills,” where the phrase “school shootings” is not part of their everyday language. Need for a world where our children are sure to have a future.

If everything does, in fact, happen for a reason, then the reason here is this: we are failing. We are failing to address why this is happening, over and over again. We are failing to use the language of loss to make change. We are failing to provide a language for those who need help and don’t know how to express it. We are failing as a country and as a species to protect what’s important. And it is not our right to bear arms. It’s not.

There is nothing more important than our children, and the world we are creating for them to grow into, and the lessons we are teaching them, in action and in words.

There is nothing more important, right now, here, than to do everything we can to save the rest of them. We have to change. We have to try harder. We have to do better. Our children are the best reason why.

Comments on: "The Language of Loss" (11)

  1. Thank you, Francesca, for writing today…in that beautiful way that you write, to express so much of what needs to be said. Love to you, my friend.

  2. Bravo! You said what I wanted to say … only much better. Thank you!

  3. Your paragraph outlining the needs our society faces is so true; beginning with real conversation. We are locked into just moving on and this does not heal the trauma of events like yesterday, not that anything can fully. It is easier then, as you so aptly point out, to fall into the trap of saying things like ‘this happened for a reason.’ I cannot think of any reason the events yesterday happened.

    Thank you for a powerful post which invites people to examine the needs of our society.

  4. You are right that we are failing.

    The lack of care for the mentally ill is something that disturbs me on a regular basis. The ignored homeless on the street, the people who shoot up schools, the other half of your house growing up.. family members who need more help than we can provide. Why are there so many gyms and physical therapy places and doctors for the body, but not enough of those things for the mind?

  5. Oh my dear Francesca! I think you are like me in saying I don’t know that there IS a reason for everything. In that light, I LOVE this line, “If everything does, in fact, happen for a reason, then the reason here is this: we are failing. We are failing to address why this is happening, over and over again.” Well said my friend. Well said. And the picture on this post is worth a thousand words.

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