~ A Letter to Help Children Cope with Tragedy ~
In the days following the September 11 Tragedy,
I received a copy of this poignant letter. After reading it, I contacted
the author, Kathie Scobee Fulgham to see if we could include it as a resource
within the section on helping children cope with the tragedy. She graciously
is giving us permission to include the letter in the hopes that it "somehow
makes its way into the hands of the families who need comforting right
now." Kathie offers a unique perspective for the children who have lost
their parents tragically. She herself is a child survivor of another national
tragedy, one of the Challenger Children. Her father Dick Scobee was the
commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger on its final mission, January.
A Letter to the Youngest Victims
of the Terrorists Attacks
The thunderous explosions that rocked the whole
world last week have shattered yours.
Why does the TV show the crashing plane, exploding
and collapsing buildings over and over? Where is my Mom or Dad? Why can't
the rescuers find him/her? Who could have done this terrible thing? Why
is the whole nation crying?
Yours is a small voice in a crashing storm of
questions arising from an act of war on the American people. But no answers
will bring you comfort. And no answers will bring you closer to understanding,
save one: Your Mom or Dad was in harm's way.
While our great nation bulks up for the first
fight of the century, we, the Challenger children and all the children
of public disasters, are hearing your hearts break, holding your hands
and hugging you from afar. You are not alone. We want you to know that
it will be bad very bad for a little while, but it will get
You see, 15 years ago, before some of you were
even born, I watched my father and his crew die in a horrible accident.
Our loved ones were astronauts on board the space shuttle Challenger, which
blew up a few minutes after take off. It all happened on live television.
It should have been a moment of private grief, but instead it turned into
a very public torture. We couldn't turn on the television for weeks afterward,
because we were afraid we would see the gruesome spectacle of the Challenger
coming apart a mile up in the sky.
My father died a hundred times a day on televisions
all across the country. And since it happened so publicly, everyone in
the country felt like it happened to them, too. And it did. The Challenger
explosion was a national tragedy. Everyone saw it, everyone hurt, everyone
grieved, everyone wanted to help. But that did not make it any easier for
me. They wanted to say good-bye to American heroes. I just wanted to say
good-bye to my Daddy.
Our nation mourns with you, for itself and for
you. But yours is also a personal loss that is separate from this national
tragedy. We hope this letter will bring you some comfort now or in the
future, when you are strong enough old enough to read it.
We want to prepare you for what's to come and to help you deal with this
burden you never asked to bear. No one asked the people in the World
Trade Center, in the Pentagon, or on the airplanes to give their lives
in a war they had never volunteered to fight, against people they did not
even know were plotting their deaths. Your Mom or Dad was innocent.
They were just doing their jobs or traveling to see friends or family,
but someone decided to make their everyday lives - and yours - a battlefield.
You've discovered by now that you won't be able
to escape the barrage of news and the countless angles of investigation,
speculation and exasperation. The 24-hour coverage will ebb and flow,
but will blind side you in the weeks, months and years to follow when you
least expect it. You will be watching television and then, suddenly, there
will be those pictures - the plane, the towers, the cloud of dust, the
fires, the people running. For other people watching, this will all be
something called "history." To you, it's your life.
Just know that the media and public perception
of this catastrophe aren't the same as yours. They can't know how
painful it is to watch your Mom or Dad die several times each day.
If they knew how much pain it caused, they would stop.
You imagine death like it is in a fairy tale or
like at Grandma or Grandpa's funeral. They look asleep and peaceful
in their coffins. Their earthly bodies are tangible and recognizable.
You can say good-bye to someone who looks like your loved one. But
the physical proof the recognizable person that was your Mom or Dad
is gone or not whole or not recognizable. Your mind can't accept
it, even though your heart knows it. You know their spirit has gone to
Heaven, but it's hard to say good-bye. You will find your own way
to say good-bye in your own time.
You may feel sick when you think about his or
her broken body. Your imagination might even carry you to new and
scary depths and unspeakable images. You will be afraid to ask what
happened because the answers might be worse than what you imagined.
You'll torture yourself wondering if they felt pain, if they suffered,
if they knew what was happening. They didn't. In the same way your
brain doesn't register pain immediately when you break your arm, your Mom
or Dad didn't know pain in their last moments of life on this earth.
You may have strange dreams or nightmares about
your Mom or Dad being alive somehow, trapped in a pocket of the wreckage
of the building or stranded or lost in some remote location after parachuting
out of the plane before it crashed. They may call to you in your
dream to come find them. You will wake up with such hope and determination,
only to have the clouds of reality gather and rain fresh tears of exasperation
and sadness on your face. These dreams are your subconscious self
trying to make sense out of what your conscious self already knows.
You will think about the last things you said
to each other. Were they loving words or actions? Did we speak
sharply to each other? Were we too sleepy or rushed to even have
one last look at each other's faces? Rest easy. Their
last thoughts were of you the all of who you are not the Tuesday
morning, Sept. 11, you. And they were happy thoughts, all in a jumble
of emotions so deep they are everlasting.
Everyone you know will cry fresh tears when they
see you. People will try to feed you even though you know it all
tastes like cardboard. They want to know what you think what
you feel what you need. But you really don't know. You
may not know for a very long time. And it will be an even longer
amount of time before you can imagine your life without your Mom or Dad.
Some people, working through their own grief,
will want to talk to you about the catastrophe, the aftermath, the rescue
and recovery, or the actions that will be taken by our nation. Others
will whisper as you walk by, "Her dad was killed in the attack on the World
Trade Center," or "His mom was in the plane that crashed into the Pentagon,"
or "His dad was one of the firefighters who died when the buildings collapsed."
This new identity might be difficult for you. Sometimes you will
want to say to the whisperers, "Yes, that was my Dad. We are so proud
of him. I miss him like crazy!" But sometimes you will want
to fade into the background, wanting to anonymously grieve in your own
way, in your own time, without an audience.
When those who loved your Mom or Dad talk with
you, cry with you, or even scream with frustration and unfairness of it,
you don't have to make sense of it all. Grief is a weird and winding path
with no real destination and lots of switch backs. Look on grief
as a journey full of rest stops, enlightening sites and potholes
of differing depths of rage, sadness and despair. Just realize that
you won't be staying forever at one stop. You will eventually move
on to the next. And the path will become smoother, but it may never
come to an end.
Ask the people who love you and who knew and loved
your Mom or Dad to help you remember the way they lived not the way
they died. You need stories about your Mom or Dad from their friends,
co-workers and your family. These stories will keep your Mom or Dad
alive and real in your heart and mind for the rest of your life.
Listen carefully to the stories. Tell them. Write them.
Record them. Post them online. The stories will help you remember.
The stories will help you make decisions about your life help you
become the person you were meant to be.
Just as a stronger nation will rise out of the
grisly cinders and steel skeletal remains of buildings and airplanes, so
will you be a stronger person. The events of last week will shape
your life in many different ways. You will wonder if you'll ever
be safe again. You will. Our nation will wage a mighty war
on terrorism. You will be protected. You can still believe
in the future in your future.
Please know that we are with you holding
you in our hearts, in our minds and in our prayers.
-Kathie Scobee Fulgham
About the Author
Kathie Scobee Fulgham, is the daughter of Dick
Scobee, commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger on its final mission,
Jan. 28, 1986. She lives in Chattanooga, Tenn., with her husband
and four children. You can contact her at Kathie_Scobee@email.com.
This letter is included in the hopes that it will reach those who may need
it and in memory of those who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger.
Grief is a weird
and winding path with no real destination and lots of switch backs. Look
on grief as a journey full of rest stops, enlightening sites and
potholes of differing depths of rage, sadness and despair. Just realize
that you won't be staying forever at one stop. You will eventually
move on to the next. The path will become smoother, but it may never come
to an end.