Permission to Cry

bostonA few days ago, out of the blue, my 17-year-old son shared a memory from when he was in first grade. He recalled coming out of his room one morning and seeing me on the couch, red-faced and teary-eyed, as the TV showed images of the World Trade Center crumbling and the sky filling with dark smoke.

My son has been reminded of this horrendous act of violence and hatred thousands of times in his relatively short life.  I’m glad he remembers not only that our nation was the victim of terrorism, but also that his mother was moved by the tragedy.

He probably never saw me cry before that morning, and has rarely seen my tears since then.

Parents are supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. We are charged with raising little beings from the womb to the grave (ours or theirs, whichever comes first). We must keep them fed, clothed, housed and loved, and must ensure that they learn to read, write, ride bicycles and get along with others. Our job is to keep them safe and honest, so they can contribute positively to society.

We can’t insulate them from random acts of terrorism, such as yesterday’s bombing during the Boston Marathon.

This morning I saw a psychologist on TV, coaching parents to be the first to share news of tragedies with their kids. Good luck on that. With the prevalence of Smartphones and laptops, our kids usually hear the latest before we do.

We can, however, model how to react to tragedy. How to feel compassion for those affected. How to consider the impact on families, friends and communities. How to donate time or funds to organizations that can make a difference. How to avoid profiling or vilifying certain ethnic or religious groups, and instead wait for the truth to unfold.

Most important, perhaps, we can reveal that in the face of tragedy, we are simultaneously strong and weak, capable of envisioning a better world, and yet shedding real tears over unfathomable cruelty.

We need to show tears, not fear.

Of course, I want my kids to remember where they were and how they reacted when they heard about the events of 4-15-13. However, I also want them to recall how they felt learning that Martin William Richard, while watching the celebrated 26.2-mile race, lost his eight-year-old son, saw his daughter lose a leg and witnessed his wife getting a serious brain injury.

I want my kids to remember how my voice quivered when I told them about that family, and that I hugged them tightly and reminded them how much I love them.

I want to raise kids who feel love for their family and friends, and also feel deeply for the entire human race. I want them to learn and understand poet John Donne’s famous words: “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in Mankind.”

-Linda Williams Rorem, 16 April 2013


  1. This is beautiful…and a great reminder for everyone, not just parents. Showing compassion is different than showing fear or weakness, and it’s important for everyone to remember that. Thank you so much for finding my blog, I think we are kindred spirits!

  2. Carrie Lovsted says:

    Thank you for this post, it made me cry and reminded me that in the midst of this latest tragedy I need to hug my kids and tell them I Love Them!!

  3. Beautifully written, Linda. I’m probably guilty of avoiding or minimizing tragedy, because I feel like the news bombards us with it, but I think you’re right that it’s important to talk about and process this kind of news with our children. In this case, I shared with them an essay that reminded us if how many good people there are in the world–the many people who rushed towards the danger to help the victims, with no thought for their own safety. Thanks for sharing these thoughts. My kids have seen me cry many times, and have hopefully learned that somehow, life goes on.

  4. catherine riker says:

    so touching and well written are such a great mom.

  5. Ellen Whitford says:

    This was lovely, poignant and true. And it has prompted yet another freshet of tears.

    • Thank you, Ellen. Hope the tears have begun subsiding. I watched an interview with a reporter from Boston last night; at first, he had written an essay sharing his grief and feelings if vulnerability. Those feelings later morphed to strength and resolve to show that Boston/ Bostonians will not be defined by terrorism.


  1. […] Permission to Cry – Permission to grieve openly during events such as the Boston Marathon bombing (Linda) […]

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