I never imagined my morning would begin in a parking lot with arms wrapped around the father and grandfather of Janessa Ramirez, embracing their pain a grief so palpable it silenced the studio where I was scheduled for an interview to talk about my new book.
Like others in our community, I had been devastated by the horrific news of an innocent little girl’s death. Even so, reading words on newsprint, seeing faces on a television screen were very different than what I was experiencing in this moment of face-to-face human contact.
An hour or so earlier, I sat in my car rehearsing sound bites, making a mental list of talking points, embellishing my face with extra layers of blush and lip gloss. My brush strokes seemed trivial and insignificant now. Another lesson on perspective. Even the book that took me an entire decade to write was instantly relegated to the inside of my handbag. I knew what was coming. I was about to be hijacked back into Griefland.
My throat was on fire. Whoever had greeted me as I entered the studio’s glass double doors instinctively handed me a cup of water and reminded me the young father’s interview was first on the schedule. Hunting down a half-shredded Kleenex from the bottom of my handbag, I blotted drooling mascara. The studio crew, trying to be professional, was hanging on to protocols and production-related tasks while simultaneously walking on eggshells, standing guard over a family’s fresh and fragile grief.
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I knew I had to say something, and I did, but found it physically demanding to push the words out, fearful the dam carrying my own grief would rupture. I quietly took a seat in the corner, acutely aware that my fuchsia suit jacket might now appear too flashy – disrespectful in the face of sorrow.
When John Malos, the show’s host walked in, his tie half undone, eyes glazed with emotion, he whispered how difficult this interview was going to be — an impossible one to script. I could see he had lost a night’s sleep attempting to craft his words. Honoring grief. Getting it right. He shuffled a few papers, holding makeshift cue cards of scribbled notes, but like all of us now gathered in the tiny studio quarters, it was a scene no one could have ever prepared for: front row orchestra seats watching a heartbroken father pleading with our community to help find his 9-year-old daughter’s murderer.
The reality of gone. Now what? Instructions to call Crime Stoppers, Police, Clergy — anyone knowing anything. A call to action. Throughout the interview, Ramirez paused, catching his breath, gazing upward, as if someone or something might be prompting him to keep talking. Impassioned words delivered into a camera but directed to the hearts of an entire community. And then it was over.
Visibly exhausted, he welcomed the arms now wrapping around him but told us he desperately needed sleep. It had been three days, no four days – many long hours blurring into an endless nightmare.
Now it was my turn. Fumbling over words, I trembled at the sight of yet another parent crossing the border into the land of loss. John and I spent a good part of our on-air time together talking heart to heart about grief, these perilous times, and the profound sadness being felt by this family and our community.
This scenario of unthinkable tragedy has become commonplace in our world. But we mustn’t get trapped in the vicious cycle of reaction: a shocking, highly publicized slaying rivets the community and media. Followed a few days later by a candlelight vigil during which time gang violence is denounced. Then an emotional funeral with ministers and police chiefs calling on citizens to take back their streets. A few weeks pass and we resume business as usual. Move on. Until the next time.
Sickened by breaking news and the sight of a miniature casket taking up space on the front pages of the morning news, I realize this is so much more than a police matter. It’s a crisis that needs to matter to every single one of us, regardless of our zip codes.
The Bee recently reported that Janessa’s death “had unnerved this city.” We must ALL be outraged, committed to making it safe for kids to play outside, ride bikes, walk to school, go to the grocery store. Even stand in front of a laundromat.
What keeps any of us silent? The falsehood of denial that this couldn’t possibly happen to one of our own children? Janessa was one of our own. And we’re all left to live with an unspeakable action that doesn’t just dim — but extinguishes — a living, breathing voice of our community’s bright future.