The five stages of grief always begin with denial. Turning on the news to see yet another horrific scene, bodies piled up, dead babies on the streets of Nice, a truck plowing through families celebrating-and the first thought it always-no, this can’t be happening. Denial.
Living in Europe, raising my child in Europe, was supposed to be a beautiful cultural experience for me and my family. But I keep confronting the five stages of grief. I avoid crowds now because of a bogeyman I can’t see and I long for the days of avoiding touristy areas because the worst thing to happen was a stolen wallet or passport. I hold my child a little tighter now, I wonder what kind of world I am raising him in and what the future will look like for him.
I now imagine a post-modern society where Europe is patrolled by the military on every street corner. Disneyland Paris is already crawling with men with uzis, protecting the magic while simultaneously destroying it piece by piece.
Second Stage of grief-anger. I’m angry that innocent babies were murdered. I am angry that a father and son were crushed in the street. I am angry that a theatre full of people were shot down in cold blood. I am angry. I am at the end of Generation X, growing up in the 90’s in America, where the Cold War meant little to me, and WWII was a chapter in my history book or a grandparent telling horror stories but it wasn’t my reality, it wasn’t part of my narrative. 9/11 changed everything. My generation was thrust into a war on terror, our innocence was lost and we were broken.
Third Stage-Bargaining. I was just outside of Paris when the November terrorist attacks happened. My friends and family could have very easily been in central Paris, dining at one of those restaurants, with our children, our babies. Who did I make a bargain with to keep them safe, this time? How do I keep them safe for next time? I feel helpless.
Which brings me to the fourth Stage-Depression. I want to give my son hope about the good people in this world, the helpers, the care-takers, the peace loving humans that are in society. Hell, I want him to be one of them when he is older. I don’t want to raise him in a world that will make him cynical of society, fearful of people that are different from him or angry that the world is such an awful place sometimes. I miss my own innocence and want to keep his intact for as long as humanly possible. I weep for the dead and their families. I wonder where the Europe I love has gone? I have spent the majority of my marriage living in Europe, I got engaged in Paris, the majority of my son’s life has been in Europe, Europe feels like a part of my soul. My son is more European than American yet all I feel is sad to be here. Sad to be in a place that feels like a war zone with a hidden enemy-a lone wolf that lurks at every carnival, every airport and every street fest.
Fifth Stage-Acceptance. Is this the new world I must accept? In America, will I have to confront teaching my child to hide from mass gunmen in schools? In Europe, will I have to teach my son to be vigilant and fearful of everything? I want to bask in a Tuscan sunset, drinking wine and eating gelato. I want to hold on to my Europe. My Europe that brings history alive and is a living and breathing beacon of culture and beauty. I do not accept a Europe in which I will be terrorized but I do not know how to not feel terror.