For someone who makes a living with words, I have no words.
When a parent takes the life of his children, there are no words.
Even for the bystander there is grief and horror, raw shock and sadness, but no words could ever truly explain what happened.
On Tuesday police discovered a murder-suicide on Lambert Ridge Road in Cross River, N.Y., a quiet hamlet in the ring of suburbs north of New York City. I live nearby in Connecticut.
Lawyer Samuel Friedlander, 50, killed his 46-year-old wife, Amy, and their children, Molly, age 10 and Gregory, 8. Then he took his own life.
When I first heard the news, one of my first thoughts was, “Please don’t let it be anyone I know.”
In truth, it was someone I know—not directly, but I have to believe that the ripples of grief and tragedy sent out by this senseless event resonated with everyone who heard.
Any shocking event like this gets wide attention across the country and around the world, as did this case. But it struck so close to home in many ways for those of us who live nearby, and for many reasons.
Geographically, it was here. It didn’t happen at some school in Ohio. It wasn’t across the country like a similar shooting last week in California.
This was a family that (apart from the Friedlanders’ impending divorce) mirrored my own and those of the same peer group—two happy young children, a boy and a girl, and suburban parents who were professionals with familiar sounding backgrounds. I went to the same university as Amy and it was inevitable for our circles to have distantly crossed.
I imagine others went through the same mental checklist process, and took note of how seemingly typical a family the Friedlanders seemed on the surface.
What is also so shocking, even after absorbing the horrific nature of the crime, is the realization that raw, bitter, evil may lurk beneath that 'typical' surface. Even with a not-so-secret pending divorce, a secret burst out from behind a façade in such a sad, awful way.
And maybe, subconsciously, we understand this: This situation rings true—perhaps not with the exact same details, and god forbid in any similar outcome. But there is façade all around us.
What happened behind the Friedlanders' front door suggests other hidden unhappiness exists elsewhere behind other closed doors.
We live in a region where perception is so much greater than reality. The professions we have, the teams our kids play on, the colleges they attend, the brand names we’re able to wear or drive…these things matter.
The pressure to pretend that all is OK is fiercely there—so your kids can play with my kids, so we can blithely chat when we run into one another at the market, so we can all keep up together. Anything different or troubling is irregular and uncomfortable—and it’s not easy to sit with someone else’s discomfort because it reminds us of our own. So no one admits that they have imperfection, and hardly anyone asks anyone else, “Is everything okay with you and your family?” or “I see you’re hurting, can I help?”
And so we struggle to understand the Cross River tragedy. For some, there is the inevitable blame. Coverage of the crime exploded with the emotional expression of readers—the school is to blame for not reporting the kids’ absences! Divorce laws are to blame! Psychiatric medication is to blame! (Although there is no evidence Sam Friedlander was on any drugs.)
If only it were that easy to parse—cause meet effect.
What if it's just a private tragedy, inherently irrational, completely inexplicable?
We grieve for those who knew the family—the relatives and friends, and the children who knew the children. We grieve for Molly and Gregory. We grieve for Amy. We grieve for the horror, we grieve because it is unimaginable. We grieve because it also makes us imagine…we grieve because it is evidence that pressures we all feel can turn real and perhaps unbearable.
And for that we struggle to find the words.
If you or a loved one is in a possible domestic violence situation, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help at www.thehotline.org or by calling 800.799.SAFE (7233). Hotline advocates are available for victims and anyone calling on their behalf to provide crisis intervention, safety planning, information and referrals to agencies in all 50 states, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Assistance is available in English and Spanish with access to more than 170 languages through interpreter services.