Ghosts in Your Soul: Losing Loved Ones to Gun Violence

This is what it feels like to lose someone you love to gun violence.

A person, say a police officer, comes to your door or walks up to you, and tells you that someone you love is dead. Your body freezes when you first hear it. Just freezes in place. Your ears start ringing madly, as though every tiny piece of your attention has zeroed in on the stream of noise coming at you, telling you the person you love is dead. Your ears are telling you: This can’t be right. Could I have heard this correctly? This can’t be possible, can it? It can’t be. It can’t. You start thinking wildly, incoherently, frantically, of all the things you’d give for what you just heard not to be true.

And then, after looking again into the police officer's eyes, you understand that it is true, and your heart falls—actually caves—into your chest. It feels like it abruptly drops, landing on your lungs and knocking your breath out of your body. Your shoulders hunch over, as though to cushion the blow. Then your heart starts racing, and you hear your heart pounding and find yourself breathing in short gasps. Your ears are still ringing, your heart is pounding and your breath is shallow and painful. The police officer is still talking, but you can’t hear him anymore. Your mind and body are sprinting, trying to get away from your growing sense of dread and disbelief. Your heart keeps pounding wildly, and you aren’t sure whether you’re going to sob or retch. Your entire body is shaking, and at the same time you feel like you’re shrinking—rooted to where you’re standing, and you can’t move or utter a word. Eventually, you do retch or sob, in explosive bursts. 

That’s all in the first few minutes, and it lasts for hours. After hours of sobbing, retching and gasping for air, your body feels strung out and depleted. You don’t feel anything for a while, only a deep, aching emptiness where part of your life was—perhaps the part of your life you loved the most. Then the panicky feelings of disbelief and loss come roaring back, and they feel familiar now, like tiny ghosts slipping in to take root in your soul. They stay with you. For years. Decades. They never let go.

Losing someone you love to gun violence leaves a gaping, aching hole in your life. If the person killed is young, as they all too often are, it’s like a light in the world goes out. All that promise, all that hope and energy and love, all that learning and thinking and planning—quashed in an instant. Blown to bits by a piece of lead no bigger than your finger.

Sometimes it isn’t instant. Sometimes the person you love is gravely injured, her insides torn into shreds that can’t be put back together again. The person you love lingers, in excruciating pain, and dies slowly, the light oozing away rather than being violently switched off.

Guns should not be part of our lives. If you love guns, go out and hunt, form your militias, do whatever the Second Amendment says you can do. But keep guns away from cities and towns, away from children, away from families, away from schools and workplaces and churches and community centers—all the places where people gather and live and try to create good things together. Guns do not belong in those places; they ruin lives. They cause anguish, loss and misery. They are killing machines, and they do evil, horrible things to people.

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