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October 22, 2014

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OTHER VOICES:

The forgotten victim — Nancy Lanza

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The philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s meditation on children is a touching favorite among parents who have read “The Prophet.”

In it, he captures perfectly the helplessness we feel as our children go out into the world, into the future, and necessarily leave us behind. He writes to us, “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”

While we understand that we cannot set the path of the arrow across the infinite or mark its landing, we want to believe that we are “the bow that is stable,” that our strength and love will help our children go swift and far.

I am sure Nancy Lanza wanted to be that bow for her son, Adam, who killed her and then 20 schoolchildren and six women who cared for them in Newtown, Conn.

By all accounts, she was devoted to her son and may have been, in the days just preceding his rampage and suicide, hopeful about a new school that might help her bright but troubled child.

But almost no one counts her among his victims. It is 26 Christmas trees, angels, candles or acts of kindness that we most often hear about. Not 27.

Nancy Lanza was shot four times in the head while she may still have been sleeping, but a distinction has been made between her and the “innocent victims.”

Even President Barack Obama, when he visited the town, called out the names of each of the dead but did not mention hers. The funeral home that transported her body to family in New Hampshire asked not to be identified.

The world blames her, at least in part, for what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School because she had guns and because she apparently tried to teach her son how to use them responsibly. She was not the strong bow, we have decided. She was the match that lit the fuse.

I care deeply about what kind of mother I have been to my children — more than any other legacy I might leave. And I have been at times consumed with regret, remorse and uncertainty.

I believe Nancy Lanza felt the same way about the decisions she had made for and about Adam, perhaps more so because his life was fraught with intractable mental health problems. He was crippled, but not in a way that brought sympathy — no crutches or wheelchair. His broken parts were invisible and engendered fear.

So I am relieved for her, in a sad, sad way. Relieved that she did not live to witness the judgment of not just family and friends but the entire nation on her worth as a mother. Knowing what her son had done would bring grief and despair. The blame for it would have been a burden hard to imagine.

Nancy Lanza kept Adam’s troubles mostly behind the doors of the house they shared, but we are hearing bits and pieces about his slide from shy and awkward into what may have been full-blown schizophrenia, which often masks itself and resists treatment.

Without the daily companionship of Adam’s father or of his older brother, without the intimate support of close friends or the right professionals, it appears she was on her own in coping with him, in caring for him, in making decisions about him.

And we have pretty much concluded that she failed, horribly, at the one job she had to do: be his mother.

They say there is no greater pain for a parent than to outlive a child. But if Nancy Lanza had outlived Adam, she would have reaped the whirlwind. At her feet would not be bouquets and teddy bears as a tribute to her loss, but the blood of innocent children and the gentle women who taught them.

To the words that have been written about the victims of Newton, let me add this tribute to Nancy Lanza: I am certain that she wanted to be the best mother she could be. Just like the rest of us. If she stumbled and failed, it was not for want of trying.

Susan Reimer is a columnist for the Baltimore Sun.

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  1. A good reminder, Susan.

  2. This is one of the finest, and one of the most compassionate of reflections tributed to mother, Nancy Lanza, by writer Susan Reimer. Before any rush to judgement, we would be well served to remember that such a parental situation could have us in that position, but for the grace, and mercy, of God.

    This tragic event is so very sad and incomprehensible. We pray for peace for those who remain, trying to understand.

    Blessings and Peace,
    Star

  3. Failure to comprehend--by author and mother. I'm not sure parents can always comprehend but they could do with a bit more effort. You work with the cards you were dealt (the child you got) and do not pretend you can change your child into an "all-American" stereotypical macho man. The K-12 and parental failure to deal with this child when he was in grade school left him to his own devices. The phony attempt to home school him was a failure. The continued attempts to force him into the military, college, peer-group recreation were just not appropriate. She thought about committing the kid but seems to have not pursed family counseling--before or after breaking with the father. This child, like so many of the rest of us, was not abnormal. He was simply not average. We as a society and culture are so UNACCEPTING of small differences, of individuality. This kid had more than adequate intelligence. I still say it is obvious he was bullied and traumatized endlessly in K-12 but no teacher or administrator dealt with that effectively. He should NOT have been pulled out of school. The school should have made him feel welcome and ENTITLED to a K-12 education in the public system WITHOUT harassment from "peers." FAILURE TO ACT is what led to this tragedy. But, he lived the tragedy for about 15 years, in pain on a daily basis. And all his mom could do was talk to other people (not professionals) about what she was going to FORCE him to do--to force him into the mold she designed for him. (OK, I spell it out bluntly. But how many more monsters-in-the-making are out there as parents refuse to deal with the child they have?)

  4. Perhaps only a woman and mother can undersatnd the mental and physical hell that Nancy Lanza went through which ultimately lead to her murder and the murders of 26 innocents.

    CarmineD

  5. @antigov...Nancy Lanza is no more responsible for the actions of Adam Lanza than your mother is responsible for your ignorant, hate-filled comments.

  6. Comment removed by moderator. Personal Attack

  7. Nancy Lanza's single biggest failure was that she allowed her son to have unsupervised access to weapons. Even if we accept all that the author of this piece says, and fill our hearts with sympathy and understanding, we can not overlook this.

    What the hell was she thinking?!?

  8. <<OK, I spell it out bluntly. But how many more monsters-in-the-making are out there as parents refuse to deal with the child they have?>>

    That about sums it up. And I'll just add in a little different way - take the time to pay attention to the child more. You know, be a parent instead of a "friend". Pay attention to what the child is doing in his/her room for hours on end without checking in with them. Pay attention to the friends they have. Like it or not, establish boundaries. The kid isn't going to like it, but that's what parenting is about.