When parents go bad, how do you react?
There are two stories of parental murder that are in the Portland headlines right now, and while the one involving a dad has a higher body count, somehow the one involving Amanda Stott-Smith seems more horrible by far. Is it that she's a mom? That she survived the ordeal without, herself, taking her life? That it happened right here, on the Sellwood Bridge, on a sidewalk I've biked or walked over dozens of times, and driven past hundreds, thousands more? Is it that her seven-year-old lived while in the water with her dying little brother?
It's so awful that I often must turn from the headlines, turn off the news, stop thinking, stop imagining. Another mama and writer, Nancy Rommelmann, has been following the case closely from a journalist's perspective and I don't know whether to be horrified or to read every single word Rommelmann writes. My two older children are nearly the same age as Stott-Smith's little boy and girl, so I've been reading, and I can't take my mind off the topic.
I write not to discuss the relative horror of what either Stott-Smith or James Gumm have done, but to wonder, how do we react to stories of this sort? Is empathizing useful or self-destructive? Can you bear to know the details? Do you bury the front page in the recycling or do you read it all in awful fascination? Do you feel that knowing the reasons behind such acts of familial destruction can help us better prevent them in the future; or is it better to hand the parents over to the judicial system and stop thinking about it to save our own troubled minds? I find, personally, that my empathy takes over, but when I read something as thoughtful and emotionally gripping as what Nancy's written, I can't help but consider the motivations and terror in depth. And to believe that something healing must come of knowing. What do you think?