12.17.2012 | 1:18 pm

There was just no way I could write something funny today. No way I could write about a ride. No way I could even talk about the Grand Slam 2 Fundraiser. Because like everyone I know, I’m too messed up — horrified, stunned, sad, angry, scared, dismayed, you name it — over the killings in Connecticut to think meaningfully about anything else.

So I’m going to write a little bit about this. And see if I can, by trying to order the jumble in my mind into sentences, make some sense. 

Sick to My Stomach

I was driving to a company Christmas lunch and white elephant exchange when I found out about about what had happened. I called Lisa — who was out doing some Christmas shopping — and told her what I had heard.

Then we just took turns saying variations of “I can’t believe this,” and “Why would anyone do something so unspeakable?” The fact was — and is — there was simply no way we could understand or grasp something so unimaginably evil. 

The rest of the day, this horrible thing kept coming to mind. I’d push it out — unable to understand, unable to help, physically ill at the realization there could be someone so perfectly vile as to kill. Over and over. Or — even worse, though I would never have imagined this to be possible — to kill children. People who were just starting to become their individual selves. Just starting to reveal who they were to their parents.

I kept thinking how much like my own children’s school this thing happened at. Then — like millions and millions of parents, I suspect — I felt a little wave of panic and wished my twins would get home soon.

What I Know and What I Don’t

The whole weekend I kept thinking about what this killing. I thought about the kids. The guns. The parents. The families. The killer. The loss. I knew that it was on my mind too much to not write about it when Monday arrived, but what do I have to say that’s worth saying?

I know enough about how people feel about guns and gun laws and the second amendment that I know I don’t want to talk about that. Yes, I know it needs talking about, but I’ll leave that to others; it’s too complex a topic — and too politically loaded — for someone like me to approach.

I know enough about mental illness to know this isn’t something I can really talk about with any authority either. 

But I do know a little bit about loss. I’ve been through tragic loss — of a much different kind, but still: a tragic loss. And I have the sense that most people, at some point, at least get frighteningly close to someone who’s been through a terrible, incomprehensible loss.

Here are a few things I remember. Maybe some of them will help. Maybe some of them won’t. I’m just one person, and what helped me might not be much help at all to another.

I don’t presume that this will help anyone remotely involved in the Connecticut tragedy. But maybe it will be useful to you as you deal with others’ loss, or maybe loss of your own.

Or maybe it won’t help at all. I don’t know.

Coming Over

The night Susan died, one of my friends called, asking if I’d like him to come over. I said “no,” and I meant it honestly. I didn’t want to be with anyone. Didn’t want anyone to see me. Didn’t have the energy to see anyone.

Another one of my friends just came over. He didn’t ask. As it turns out, having a friend there amidst all the family was good. I don’t remember what we talked about or whether we talked at all, but it was really good to have him there.

So which is the right way? Both, I think. If you’re the kind of person who calls and asks, do. If you’re the kind of person who can just show up, do. Both are signs of solidarity. 


Everyone’s impulse is to ask how they can help. I will tell you that I hated that question. It required me to do so much thinking and deciding. What do I need help with? Am I willing to admit that I need help with this? Is this a person who I trust to handle something I need done if I ask for that help, or will I just be exchanging the work of doing something for the work of managing the doing of that thing?

Does this person really want to help, or is this just an offer of condolence? 

On the other hand, when a friend of mine — who manages a lawn care company — said, “I’m going to take care of your lawn for the rest of the summer, OK?” I was incredibly grateful. 

I think there’s a lesson there. If you have an offer of help to make, try to make it concrete — what you’re going to do (in particular if it’s something you have expertise in). And make the offer as a statement, rather than as a question (“Do you need help with anything?”)

Also, remember that offers of help tend to come in a giant flood at first, and slow to a trickle within a week or a month or whatever. As your loved on goes from being overwhelmed with offers to simply being overwhelmed, a renewed offer of help a few weeks or months down the road might be more helpful than one right away.


This is one topic I almost decided to leave out, because it’s as potentially inflammatory as the guns and politics part of this discussion I’m trying to steer clear of. 

Which is maybe ironic, because steering clear of religion is actually the piece of advice I have to give.

You may have good reason to ignore this piece of advice — if you’re strongly religious and you are absolutely certain that the person you’re comforting is also strongly religious, for one example. Or if the person you’re comforting has initiated talk of faith.

However, unless your confidence on the person’s feelings toward religion are absolute, you might want to steer clear. Your world view may not be their world view, and this isn’t the time to put them in the awkward position of deciding whether to smile and listen to something they find offensive.

Or — supposing the person you’re talking to is ostensibly even of the same religion as you — you don’t know whether the person might currently be feeling some serious anger or at least ambivalence toward your deity at the moment. Is this really a good moment to ask for a show of faith?

This may be a good time to — instead of assuring this person of the power of prayer and letting them know that you personally have plenty of faith — pray on their behalf and let it work its power without you telling them about it.

On the Bright Side

Maybe some people really do get cheered up when others try to find a silver lining to a tragedy. For myself, only my inability to yell at well-meaning people kept me from shouting, “Don’t try to tell me that this death came with perks.”

Eventually, many people — including me, I hope — can take something horrible and use it for a catalyst for good. But don’t presume that anything good comes bundled, no charge, with any tragedy.

Telling Your Own Stories

For me, it was helpful to hear people who had actually been through the same thing tell me “You’ll get through it; you’ll be OK.”

It was not helpful, on the other hand, when people simply knew of a similar tragedy, and thought they were showing solidarity or understanding by recounting it. I was already so distraught and angry and worried about the future that every time someone told me their story, I’d just hear that they knew someone who had endured something worse than I had, and had handled it better than I was.

Saying “I’m Sorry”

What makes a tragedy a tragedy — and not just a problem — is that it can’t just be fixed. There’s not much you can say that will make it better. And saying “I’m sorry” just doesn’t seem like it’s enough.

But you know what? I appreciated every single person who just said that. An acknowledgment that something terrible has happened along with an expression of sympathy. 

It’s not much, which is part of the nature of tragedy and loss. No matter how badly you want to do enough, you just can’t do much to help.

But it’s something. And sometimes that has to be enough.

PS: My sister Jodi has a good piece today on what she’s thinking and doing after this attack. Read it here


  1. Comment by The Hammer | 12.17.2012 | 1:30 pm

    Well said Honey. I love you.

  2. Comment by zeeeter | 12.17.2012 | 1:32 pm

    Thanks Fatty.

  3. Comment by berry | 12.17.2012 | 1:40 pm

    This may be the only thing I read about the events of last Friday on which I agree with every point. Thanks, Fatty.

  4. Comment by BigShorty | 12.17.2012 | 1:43 pm


    Perfect post.


  5. Comment by Hannah | 12.17.2012 | 1:45 pm

    Very insightful and well written – thank you

  6. Comment by Louis | 12.17.2012 | 1:52 pm

    @Hammer – AWWWWWWWWWWW
    @Fatty – “Eventually, many people — including me, I hope — can take something horrible and use it for a catalyst for good.”
    You have.

  7. Comment by Skippy | 12.17.2012 | 1:56 pm

    I wish Barack Obama could read this Post . When i saw him in tears Friday , as i watched CNN , as the story was breaking , it was hard to realise , that he is perhaps Numero Uno , and realises he is handcuffed ! His sincerity was clear to those on any side of the Political divide !
    Sunday night was equally heartbreaking , here is a GUY ,thinking like a Father and yet bound by his duties as C in C of the USA .
    My blog details what i would do , but i am not a Parent , nor am i a US Citizen BUT as a human being i applaud the courage of the father of Emily Parker , in foregiving the perpetrator . That family were your neighbours ?
    So many things that i wish i could do , but i wish the News Networks were prevented from ” naming the “shooters ” so as to remove the ” copycat ” syndrome , no publicity , no epitaph , could that help ?
    Tonight CNN stated ” NRA ” received §200 Million last year , can people STOP them from using this to frustrate efforts to save the lives of 48000+, that Mayor Bloomberg thinks could be lost if GOOD people stand IDLE ?

    God Bless Those Teachers who saved so many lives !

    R.I.P. the innocent !

  8. Comment by Jim Tolar | 12.17.2012 | 1:57 pm


    It appears that terrible loss and tragedy bring the best out in you. For that I am both very sorry and grateful. Very well written and heartfelt. Thanks for the post. It’s one of the few things I’ve read or heard about this abomination that didn’t make me feel a little bit sick.


  9. Comment by Mike C | 12.17.2012 | 1:58 pm

    Thanks Fatty. Very well said. It can be so tough to know what to say or do to comfort others. I’m sure I’ve said or done all the wrong things you mentioned in those situations in the past. I hope they know I meant well. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  10. Comment by FujiPixie13 / Beci | 12.17.2012 | 1:59 pm

    Sending you, The Hammer, your family, and all the Friends of Fatty’s families all my love & friendship. This is one of my favorite posts you have ever written, Fatty. It speaks volumes from experience.

    Chapeau & thank you.

  11. Comment by Kristina | 12.17.2012 | 2:03 pm

    I typed a comment long enough to be its own blog post, if I in fact had a blog. And then I deleted it because this is not my place. To sum up… thanks, Fatty.

    It’s not easy to do that; nice job on self-editing! – FC

  12. Comment by Jenni | 12.17.2012 | 2:03 pm

    On Friday I drove to Newtown, CT. A place I pray is located 9 miles away, and we had a long prayer session. Afterwards, I stopped in town by a candlelight vigil. It was already late, most people were home. I ended up spending about an hour consoling a reporter for the New York Times; she was so distraught she talked of not continuing with her job, she could not cover one more story of painful loss, and being assigned a story of this emotional magnitude overcame her. But the town was already filling with love- I met a psychologist who was from the Canadian border who drove down, just to offer anything she could to help.

    I’m a teacher. I’ve had three times in my career where guns were involved in my school, once there WAS a shooting and a 3 hour lock-down. And I’ll tell you all- there’s no teacher I know of that wouldn’t put themselves between a gunman and your children. I did it myself when I thought the time had come. We love your children and we will always protect them as our own, I promise you that. I know it doesn’t take away the fear we now all have, but I hope it’s some small comfort.

    Hugs to everyone (:’o(

    Everyone owes teachers so much. More than we understand, and more now than ever. Thank you, Jenni. For like a zillion things. – FC

  13. Comment by engine | 12.17.2012 | 2:17 pm

    Perfect response to this awful tragedy. I was waiting to see what you had in store & you hit it right on. Thank you.

    Thanks. I kinda feel like I’m flailing around in the dark, but it’s good to know I’m making contact from time to time. – FC

  14. Comment by mykill | 12.17.2012 | 2:25 pm

    Thank you for this post today. Friday night i found out that a dear friend of mine has been diagnosed with throat cancer. You said you weren’t sure if your list would help anybody, know that it has already. Even though our family has had some close calls this past year, this one makes me feel like i need a new roadmap. This helps a lot. Thank you.

  15. Comment by Clydesteve | 12.17.2012 | 2:32 pm

    Everyone here is probably happiest when you are jokey and silly – you do that so well.

    But I really appreciate that you are at your best, Fatty, when you have to be serious. Thanks

  16. Comment by bikemike | 12.17.2012 | 2:33 pm

    Nice. Thank you.

  17. Comment by Don | 12.17.2012 | 2:39 pm

    Thanks Fatty. I’ve also been at a loss for what to say, what to think, it’s all so numbing.

  18. Comment by Helen | 12.17.2012 | 2:46 pm

    You’re a terrific person!

  19. Comment by ClydeinKS | 12.17.2012 | 3:03 pm

    My wife is an elementary teacher, my oldest is a first grader at her school. Things definitely hit me at the time of breaking news but not as much as this morning as they were preparing for today to start. There are so many things that could be said, but I don’t think any of it could be as well stated as here.
    Thank you Elden (just can’t call you Fatty today), I’m guessing this information will be discussed in your next book. If not, strongly consider inclusion – excellent and insightful post.
    Thank you!

  20. Comment by Chris Engle | 12.17.2012 | 3:10 pm

    You wrote the thoughts that I have in my head but not able to put together in words. Thank you.

  21. Pingback by Loss | Bicycle News Gator | 12.17.2012 | 3:22 pm

    [...] here: Loss This entry was posted in FatCyclist.com and tagged didn, friend, gun, loss, make, piece, [...]

  22. Comment by Matthew | 12.17.2012 | 3:38 pm

    Long time reader, first time comment…..nicely done!

  23. Comment by centurion | 12.17.2012 | 3:49 pm

    Good one Elden.

  24. Comment by Elizabeth | 12.17.2012 | 3:51 pm

    Thank you, Fatty. Again, you put into words what many are feeling. Like most people, I have experienced loss and realize that everyone’s is different. I really never know ‘how you feel’. My best friend’s husband (my good friend too) died of cancer and she really hated people saying, “I’m sorry.” For her sake, I have tried to learn to tell the person who has lost not just, “I’m sorry” but more of what their loved one meant to me and why I would honor their memory. This is what I took away from her experience and hopefully it makes a tiny difference to someone.

    The thing that kept plaguing me as I wrote today’s post is the fact that what I liked, others might not, and vice versa. Your approach sounds wonderful. – FC

  25. Comment by Dave T | 12.17.2012 | 4:17 pm

    Thank you Elden. Well said.

  26. Comment by Mike from Melbourne | 12.17.2012 | 4:29 pm

    Well written Elden, I must admit to shedding a few tears this week. My wife is a school principal and my daughter is just about to start as a teacher. I hope they never get confronted with this situation.
    Tough gun laws were introduced in Australia in 2006 and since that time there has not been an incident such as this whereas there were 13 in the 15 years prior. I hope that President Obama can overcome the political power of the NRA and bring in similar laws. The answer is not more guns.

  27. Comment by Saso | 12.17.2012 | 4:38 pm

    Words of wisdom. Thanks.

  28. Comment by Betsy | 12.17.2012 | 4:41 pm

    Well said. As a priest (I had a parish in the town next door and have not looked at the list of names because I’m afraid that I might know some of the names), I’ll cover the religion if people want to hear it, but there’s a time and a place for the religion.

    But your best line is the one about the silver lining. I posted that one to my facebook wall witha link for people to come read this. That part about “don’t assume that all tragedies can have good stuff” is powerful.

    You really are the nicest guy in the world, Fatty. Thanks for this.

  29. Comment by Rogier | 12.17.2012 | 6:11 pm

    Hi Eldon,

    Thank you for sharing your kind and healing words. Perhaps others can learn from your understanding, compassion and life lessons. We need to realize that we are all in this together and we are all connected. Lets start celebrating our similarities in life and not our differences. Thank you!
    P.S. I would love to join you on a ride someday..

  30. Comment by Anonymous | 12.17.2012 | 6:26 pm

    My mother in law is in currently in the final stages of cancer. Both my wife and I have re-read your past posts as you dealt with similar circumstances, and it has been enormously helpful, time and time again. This post will be as well, I’m sure.

    Thanks for everything.

  31. Comment by Roger Whitney | 12.17.2012 | 6:34 pm


  32. Comment by WindPixie | 12.17.2012 | 7:19 pm

    Seven weeks ago yesterday, my 53 year old “run three miles a day” husband was taken off life support and died. He never knew he had stage 4 kidney cancer that had spread through his organs, causing strokes that paralyzed him and put him in a coma. I am now a 40 something year old widow, something I never dreamed would happen. Fatty, you are right about helping those who are mourning. Just do something-take them plastic silverware and paper plates, rake leaves, tell them they are loved, let them tell you about what happened, cry with them, take a meal for them to put in the freezer, write a note, just tell them you are sorry-that means a lot. A friend brought me treats last week. Another friend planted pansies all over my front yard and they look great now and will in the spring. Yet another friend took me on a drive.

    Do not say “I can’t imagine life without my spouse/mate/partner,” (as several well-meaning friends have said to me) Well, I am not imagining it because I am living it. I am very religious and while I do not know why this happened, I have been blessed with more peace than I deserve. Thank you, Fatty, for your words of advice. While everyone deals with a spouse’s death differently, you have a pretty good idea what I am going through. You are helping me.

  33. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 12.17.2012 | 7:21 pm


    Thank you. Again you prove to be the stronger person. As a parent with both a 4th grade and 6th grade child, I lacked the strength to listen to the news. I could not imagine how I would be. Like all parents we want only good things for our children and this tragedy is incomprehensible, even today.

    Thank you to;
    @Betsy 12.17.12 4:41 pm
    @ClydeinKS (his wife)
    and Jenni at 2:03

    I believe my children’s public school teachers to be some of the finest examples of the profession. Individuals who give their all, and their best to every child who they come in contact with. I am thankful not only to them, but to all teachers who nurture, inspire, and protect the future of our community, both local and across all borders.

    I’ll say my own silent prayer for those families in Sandy Hook.

    Lastly I ditto @Louis 1:52.

  34. Comment by Jenni | 12.17.2012 | 7:30 pm

    Wow. I’m sending you hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

  35. Comment by Jenn | 12.17.2012 | 7:44 pm

    Very sound advice, Fatty. Thanks.

  36. Comment by pedalgeek | 12.17.2012 | 8:47 pm


    I have found myself teary eyed numerous times since Friday including reading your article. My daughter is 5 and I too couldn’t wait for her to get home from school so I could hug her just a little bit tighter.

    I am/have been at a loss to express my feelings about this tragedy so thank you for sharing so openly and articulating so well.

  37. Comment by Lor | 12.17.2012 | 10:08 pm

    Good post, bro.
    You were always really gracious when people muffed up at raw times. You knew everyone just wanted to relieve the burden a little, but they were often so clumsy and unskilled: there aren’t great guidelines for condolences-offering. You set yourself aside and let people maintain their dignity, and that’s really nice.
    Your advice is helpful for the clumsy.

  38. Comment by Jeremy | 12.18.2012 | 1:50 am

    Thank you, Fatty. I am having a hard time with this one. It is the absolute worst from both a personal and professional perspective. We had some tough conversations about what we would do at school today.

    My students were shocked when they realized the plan is for me to lock my door and then go into the hall to lock the next two doors that circuitously lead to my classroom. “What would you do if the gunman came up on you,” they asked. Without hesitation I replied, “I’d do everything in my power to get those doors locked and my keys under the door so someone with a gun can’t get to you.” Most of them thought it was a pretty lousy plan. With a wry smile, I would have to agree but acknowledge we can only do with what we are given. I would echo Jenni. We have a plan, however good or bad it might really be, to ensure the safety of our charges and we will do everything in our power to keep our students safe.

    As a parent, I realize that won’t calm anyone’s nerves. It’s hard to face the reality that life is risky and we cannot keep our kids safe at all times, however much we want to. There is much healing to do. I appreciate your words.

  39. Comment by Liz M. | 12.18.2012 | 9:43 am

    Thank you again, Elden, for tackling a difficult issue.

    Unfortunately, over the years I’ve had friends or colleagues that passed away too soon and left young children behind. I always take a few days and compose a letter with some of my memories of that person, so the children can have that or look at later when they are old enough to understand. I also include contact information so they can contact me some day if they want to chat. My husband’s own mother passed away when he was fairly young, and recently he enjoyed getting to know a different side of her by getting in contact with her college roommate. I try to get across that their loved one will live on in my memory.

  40. Comment by Heidi | 12.18.2012 | 10:05 am

    I’m sorry. For all of our losses, I’m sorry.

  41. Comment by Tom from NorCal | 12.18.2012 | 11:08 am

    As always, full of class. Thinking what a lot of us are thinking or wondering about. Thank you.

  42. Comment by Lori | 12.18.2012 | 11:30 am

    Dear Fatty,
    I am a teacher in Connecticut. It was very difficult to come back to school on Monday to watch all of our children, so full of life, hope and promise, enter the building, knowing that our schools seem to have become a terrorist target. We did the best we could in trying to promote a sense of normalcy while policemen patrolled our hallways….I guess that is our new normal. There is such deep sadness in our community….and in some small way….your words have helped.

  43. Comment by Jodi | 12.18.2012 | 12:41 pm

    Great essay Elden – I’ve found that people who come from loss have a skeleton key of sorts to speak to others who are going through it.

    You’re one of those people who does know what to say. Thank you for that.

  44. Comment by Susie H | 12.18.2012 | 2:45 pm

    Thank you. Thank you for helping those of us who have never encountered real tragedy in our lives, gain just a tiny bit of insight into how to behave. I never know what to say/do/help with, and as a result, I tend to do nothing and then I am regretful. What you’ve said here has at least confirmed some of my earlier instincts and from here on out, I will be braver to act on them. I AM so sorry…

  45. Comment by Janneke | 12.18.2012 | 4:01 pm

    Wow, just wow. You should think of becoming a bereavement councillour.

  46. Comment by Anonymous | 12.19.2012 | 6:46 am

    To our teachers Jenni, Jeremy, and Susie H: I do so appreciate your hearing your thoughts and knowing your commitment to our kids. Thank you.

  47. Pingback by helping our children through trauma | aliens and strangers | 12.22.2012 | 6:44 am

    [...] piece I’m glad I read last week came from Fat Cyclist, and it’s simply titled “Loss.” Fatty is not a licensed psycotherapist.  And he’s largely unqualified to write on [...]


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