When It Is Close To Home

A 20-minute scenic drive takes you from Circle of Security International’s office to Freeman High School. Two weeks ago, a 15-year-old boy named Sam was shot and killed by another 15-year-old boy. Ami Strahan, a Social Worker, had to make that drive from downtown Spokane. When she heard about the shooting, she texted her son but he hadn’t returned her texts. It wasn’t until she got to the school that the Sheriff found her and had to break the news to her. Twelve weeks prior, Ami’s husband was involved in a freak accident on Father’s Day and the family was still reeling from the loss of him.

The larger Spokane community has rallied around Ami, her daughter Emily and three other families whose daughters were injured by gunfire. Businesses have donated profits to the families, a Go Fund Me account was set up for Ami and everywhere you go there are “Freeman Strong” t-shirts, bracelets and signs. Over the past two weeks, families, friends and strangers have spoken with each other about the tragic events in Freeman and offered comfort to each other.

Healing from something as awful as this can only happen within connection... In the humanity of shared grief and loss, of pain and confusion. We soothe ourselves and each other when we can turn toward each other. When we can hug, cry, talk or just be together. When we can each tell our story about how we feel this so deeply even if we do not live in Freeman.

On Saturday, a memorial service was held for Sam Strahan. Hundreds of people attended: fellow students and their families, Ami’s co-workers, community members and leaders, first responders, local politicians. Sam’s memory was honored by people who knew him well and people who didn’t know him at all, except in his final act.

Even in her profound grief, Ami spoke at Sam’s memorial. “They had argued the night before about typical teenage stuff, she said, but she worried she wasn’t being a good enough parent, the kind of parent that Sam needed. The next day when Sam came downstairs ready for school, she hugged him and told him she loved him “with every ounce of my being” and was just trying to be the best mother she could. Sam hugged her back and said he understood.

“That was the last time I saw him,” she said.

She urged everyone in the crowd to love and cherish each other every day.

“There is no disagreement big enough to compromise our love for each other,” she said. “Be good humans. Be good humans.”  excerpt from "The Spokesman Review" 

It is easy to move to blame and anger in tragic situations. And, of course - justifiably - there is a need to consider how this happened and for responsibility to be taken by the appropriate people. To develop an understanding of what led up to this horrific act and how we can support other people from ever making the same decision.

Understandably, we are angry and feel protective of the victims. It’s hard to organize all the intense feelings it brings up. It’s hard to make sense of it and easy - with hindsight - to think we know how it could have been prevented. It’s safer to blame because then we don’t have to be as worried that it could happen to us, too.

Being a teenager is a complicated time. There are so many changes and a strong need to be independent while still being fairly dependent. It is also complicated to be a parent of a teenager. To watch your sweet, loving child become someone with rougher edges. To hang on to the hope that you’ve done enough, been enough for those edges to smooth back out over time.

Ami’s words to her son... I’m not sure I’m being a good enough parent to you, but I love you with every ounce of my being. Her message seems fitting for all parents and teens who are going through something difficult. We can’t help but think that if all teens were able to hear and feel this message consistently, things could change. For now, our hearts remain with all the Freeman families and the greater Spokane community. 

This is the first part in a series of blogs about the struggles of being a teenager and being the parent of a teenager.


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