The Day I Almost Become a Homicide Survivor
Janice Harris Lord
Before I wrote the first edition of No time for Goodbyes: Coping with Sorrow, Anger, and Injustice After a Tragic Death, I spoke with hundreds of people whose loved ones had been killed suddenly and catastrophically. With each of the six new editions, additional material was added as more research and trauma practice knowledge became available. Suicide was added, and the most recent edition is now available in Spanish.
On October 6, 2021, I, too, received the call that I knew started it all for so many of my clients and readers. My daughter was on the phone, her voice shaking: “Mom, I think he’s going to be OK, but there’s been a shooting at Calvin’s school, and he’s been shot. I need you to call the other kids.”
Calvin is my first-born grandson, the 25-year-old teacher shot while trying to intervene in a fight between two kids at Timberview High School in Mansfield, Texas. I asked her to repeat it because I was sure I hadn’t heard her correctly. I had.
Because of what I had learned from others over the years and included in No Time for Goodbyes, I knew what to expect and what to do. I’m not saying it made it emotionally easier. I was terrified beyond my ability to find the right words. There simply were no words. But I knew these things:
- I knew that, more than likely, Calvin had not felt pain when he was shot because of all the magnificent brain chemicals that fire through one’s body in the immediate aftermath. (Calvin later confirmed this. He knew that he fell down in the school hall way, but didn’t know why until the pain came after he was in the ambulance.)
- I knew he had a decent chance of survival because he had been taken to a Trauma II hospital by ambulance rather than Care-Flighted to the Trauma I hospital some distance away.
- I knew that emergency health care professionals do not give the family information until they are sure they are telling the truth. The wait could be long. And I knew that the wait could end in a death notification.
- I knew that grandparents, like myself, get a double whammy when a grandchild is hurt. The first is the grandchild, but also his parents and their siblings. In this case, they arrived at the hospital one by one, as scared as I was, and needing comfort. I knew that all I needed to tell them was that it wasn’t any of our jobs to “be strong.” We simply needed to keep loving one another through our tears.
- I knew that , after a long wait, it would be the trauma surgeon would bring us the truth. He did. He said that Calvin would survive but likely live the remainder of his life with a 45 bullet lodged in his chest, a mere 1/10 of an inch from his aorta. The bullet had crushed ribs and taken out a small piece of lung and clavicle. Those injuries slowed down the bullet enough to stop it where it did.
- I knew that, while profound gratitude poured from our hearts and souls at that moment, the trauma would not end there.
- I knew to call the best trauma-focused psychiatrist in our area to assess him for Acute Stress Disorder and potential PTSD as soon as he was able to go.
- I knew to call a trauma-focused therapist colleague to schedule appointments for myself and other family members.
- I knew to start filling out a Crime Victims Compensation application to get him certified immediately.
- I knew that Calvin would need protection from the media and I knew how to do that.
- I knew that he would be a key witness in a criminal justice case and that there were many things he should not put on social media or talk about anywhere else. I also knew that this would be a very long process but grateful that I knew his rights as a crime victim.
- I knew that it might take a while for his anger to surface, but that whatever the emerging emotions were, they were to be honored and respected. His reaction would not be about any weakness on his part; it would be about the senseless use of a gun in a public school by someone who chose to use it.
Hundreds of people in the United States have a similar experience every day, but their stories do not end as well as mine. Their lives end “in a way” when they are notified because their loved one died. When they are able to read, which may take a long time, I want to pass on what I have learned over the years with them. Even more important than my words are the words of the many people quoted in the book who walked in their shoes, those who know that the sudden, violent, death of a loved one is a very, very challenging journey. They are the experts. I am merely their messenger.