The carnage of death is painful to ponder even from afar. It is exponentially more devastating as it gets closer: your town, your school…your son’s casket.
Veronique Pozner lost her 6-year-old son, Noah, at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. At his funeral, she wanted attending Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy to not only speak in honor of her little boy, she wanted him to stand next to his casket and view the carnage wrought by the Bushmaster M-4 military rifle wielded by a deranged man who brought his mother’s legally owned weapon to school to slaughter 26 people, 20 of them children.
One of them Noah. He was the youngest victim, shot 11 times.
“I needed it to have a face for him,” Pozner said. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.”
So at the Abraham L. Green & Son Funeral Home in Fairfield on Dec. 17, just before the start of Noah’s service, Pozner took Malloy by the arm and led him to her son’s open casket.
The governor weeps.
During a news conference later that day, the usually unemotional, no-nonsense Malloy wiped away tears, his voice breaking as he spoke briefly about conversations with the victims’ families. A Malloy spokesman said Thursday that the governor does not want to discuss the conversations. [Source: CT Post]
In a story-within-the-story reported by Jewish Forward (from a blog originally posted at the Dart Society, Journalists Who Cover Violence site) writer Naomi Zeveloff discusses the interview she conducted with Veronique Pozner just days after her son’s death, when details of such a painful and intimate nature were revealed that Zeveloff wrestled with the quandary of whether not to publish them. Her answer came directly from Noah’s mother: Veronique wanted the details of her son’s death published. She wanted to breach the distance that occurs when someone else’s child dies, to bring the reality of his brutal murder into view, to hopefully put a very real face on the carnage of gun violence.
The details that stuck with me the most — and the details which I felt most conflicted about putting in print — were Veronique’s descriptions of the damage to her son’s body. He was shot 11 times; she told me that his jaw and his left hand were mostly gone.
There were certain things Veronique wanted for Noah’s funeral. She felt that his body had suffered too many indignities already; she was adamant that he not be autopsied. She wanted him to be buried with a Jewish prayer shawl and with a clear stone with a white angel inside — an “angel stone” — in each of his hands. Veronique was only able to put the stone in his right hand because the left was “not altogether there,” she told me, crying for the first time in our interview. She asked the funeral director to put the other one in the left hand spot. “I made him promise and he did.”
While Zeveloff reports that, as the story made its way around the media some responded negatively, feeling the brutal details of Noah Pozner’s body were better left unsaid. But most felt the frank, unvarnished description of a boy’s death at the end of a military rifle made very real – as his mother wanted – “the damage the assault weapon wrought on his young body.”
As a writer myself, I couldn’t help but reflect upon some of the stories I’ve read and written, people I’ve talked to, and emails and messages I’ve received on the topic of gun violence and gun control, realizing how distanced many of those I’ve heard from are from the reality of a small body mangled by a big gun. From the gun advocates who demand that their “rights” be vaulted above any concerns for slaughtered children or efforts to mitigate those deaths, I often see the paranoia and selfishness of those who care little about taking even the smallest steps toward a saner society. The admonitions thrown around by gun zealots convinced that no law will change anything, no effort is good enough, and that inaction is better than not-completely-perfect action, illuminate just how insular and detached many less compassionate citizens are from the battle we’re in (when there are more deaths by gunfire just since 1968 than in ALL U.S. wars, there is no other word but “battle”). In this swirling debate, one need only consider the experience of Veronique Pozner and others who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence to see past the vitriol and self-righteousness… to the view of a little boy in a casket.
“We all saw how beautiful he was. He had thick, shiny hair, beautiful long eyelashes that rested on his cheeks. He looked like he was sleeping. But the reality of it was under the cloth he had covering his mouth there was no mouth left. His jaw was blown away. I just want people to know the ugliness of it so we don’t talk about it abstractly, like these little angels just went to heaven. No. They were butchered. They were brutalized. And that is what haunts me at night.” [Source: Dart Society]
It should haunt us all.