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David and Francine Wheeler: Life After Loss

2017-10-16 | 🔗

On December 14, 2012, the unthinkable happened when a lone gunman shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One of the lives lost that day belonged to 6-year-old Ben Wheeler. Ben’s parents, Francine and David, share how embracing love, light and even suffering can be a catalyst for transformation.

This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I'm over Winfrey welcome to supersede conversations the podcast. I believe that one of the most valuable gives you can give yourself is time taking time to be more fully present your journey to become more inspired and connected to the deeper world around us starkness right now, a few months after the shooting at Sandy. Elementary school of friends, get me a link to watch it Bill lawyers interview with David in Francine Wheeler, whose Actual son been was among the twenty six who were killed that day and I watched astounded astounded by their grace their poise, their depth of being before that horrible day in December the wheelers had been a typical, suburban family. Never Imagining the turn their lives would take and then December fourteenth. Two thousand twelve happened.
That morning alone, gunman shot his way into Sandy Hook elementary school carrying three. So, my automatic weapons he shot and killed twenty six people, twenty of them children, nine Euro Nate, who had taken cover with his classmates in the school Jem, survived his brother. Six year old been was among the fallen a year later, despite their ever present heartache David the Francine have found the way to embrace love and light bends light trying with that positive change so that what had Into them doesn't have to happen to other family, So, on a Misty California morning it was my great honour the wheelers join me in my back yard to talk about what really matters
part of this journey. Are your children then, and made so tell us about them, tell us about then. yeah well, Benny was a force of he was, as is sometimes because of second children. I think he was always fighting for everyone's attention. He always wanted to be the centre of attention at the dinner table. Nate could barely get in a word edgewise and, and he found ways often hysterical. Often incredibly maddening? Is all parents know too to be the centre of attention and to make everyone focus on him? He had a tremendous of amount of energy, and I've said that he there was nothing on his dial between one and eleven is absolutely true. If you woke up in the morning at full speed- and he was full speed until is until he finally decided that his eyes were closing, you get the pillow
It was astonishing. I've seen it follows leap amidst centre and he gave what he word and its true. He I mean, I don't think you could meet someone who love life were them and she was incredibly smart, he was taking it all in philosophy. My father always says you know he lived about ten years each year. You know he just he loved life and he loved people, and he just pedal on talents. Didn't you Father also say that he would accomplish great things and he always been would accomplish great thing. We're just knew that about him. You know he was he just nothing got by him not a face, and he was you know he was six, so he was about age where he was star. To figure out how to not be a kid anymore, which happens then, when he might well, he You remember when he would welcome a perfect example of some of the quest,
we got toward the very end yeah. Let's talk about that. Let's talk about that conversation, Was it just an ordinary morning December Fourteenth ass, wise ass into I had forgotten that made have book club and eight in the morning there were a couple of so we were to do that, so we didn't he they weren't getting on the bus. I said archives regatta hurry up and get the dishes and dishwasher, because I gotta get me to school and then I said to ban arts or do you want to come back in May for the bus or do you want? go and have a treat. You won't go arbitrary, so we dropped off needed school and we went to the coffee shop and we sat down and all because he was a big Starbucks where he was. and before actually monk wielding the dishes in the dish washer? He set up out of the blue him on what what is for giving this mean- and I was
I don't know if I can somebody to something wrong and yet written about it, and he was I I didn't think about it. We got a Starbucks after a drop off Nate because they loved hydrochloric, he loved TAT, she loved anything chocolate and we sat down and there's two parts to the story. One is that we sat down, and he said to me just break varies a mom, I'm gonna be an architect, and I said it's quite it up, but I have to be appealing intelligence to and I said why you said because needs gonna be apparently just may have to do everything NATO's, and I said what he's an on going to do. Everything made does mommy recently, you know you're young person, you don't have to said now I want to and we sat there and I said so nice to be with you so after he died
I started a question like you know, maybe that maybe that conversation was an especial as I have remembered it. Maybe I had made it up, maybe didn't really happy, and I ran into this woman at some sandy hook. Function might have been the first time I was out publicly in front of our friends and- and this woman came up to me she said, excuse me, I'm a european army. I work at the school and I was at Starbucks the morning that you were with Ben. I said. Oh ok and she said I just wanted to tell you that I'm not in the business of listening to people's conversations, but I happened to hear what a beautiful conversation you have with your son that day and I feel I have to tell you that it really happens. A stranger just comes to you and tell you that.
When he asked the question about forgiveness, you thought it was just another question in the line of security question. I thought, maybe maybe they were talking about it at Sunday School in office. He loves Sunday school and maybe it was their subject, but I had never spoken to him about forgiveness and as far as that question goes at so complex yet it seems a simple, but I can't lighting and say oh yeah, forgiven everybody and myself. I think the first person I need to forgive is me, and I haven't yet I'm working hard on, and why do you need to forgive you so? Well, it's forgiveness and guilt cause guilt has no. There is no room for gilts right absolutely by one of the natural things that happens after something so horrific. Is the waves yet has I had three signs not to send them is already well, but more than those we allocate had sniffle you and you
We in the kitchen, you said, should I sent to school, he's, got a little carbonizing he'll be fine, send if it's not a problem. Solving. I have been looking at all and then what else I hadn't thought about, because I was musical director of a show and I taken them the night before the show, but I was going to take them out of school on Friday and taken to the show instead and then decided now taken on Thursday and bring the school. It's very hard, working Burke too, to say to yourself with confidence. I did everything right, And if you know everybody is dealing with this on, someone will limit.
For something like this happens. You always its nature to second guess, yes and try and look back at the figure all that stuff and it's really hard to say I did everything I was supposed to do, and I did it right. Because we want control and we want the power over our circumstances. We want to be. able to manipulate our circumstances to our best outcome? Will you certainly did? everything that you knew how to do exactly exactly exactly. That's that's what I'd have to careers yourself for that I have heard you say that your job now is to protect been spirit
us about that, but well meaning you know. I've sent that I'm still the father of two children to boys and- and I believe that I mean look- I'm not done being Ben's father because of this- and you know these kids benenhurst classmates. With all good intentions have been memorialize in men. different ways by lots of different groups and people much of it without our consent, her involvement so much of it with, but a good part of it and I bear no ill will. This is gracious kind loving stuff because he's gesture, isn't it the people who, and their over well meaning love and some right that right that show you you have to. Let that lift you and you can't. You can't allow
yourself to let it overwhelm you but it has occurred to me that there is only one memorial for personally as bends father that matters and that's how with my life. From here on out? That's it! That's number! On it's all, I have control over and number two They only memorial, let matters so What matters to me is to speak, I don't say, speak for him that slightly the wrong phrase, but but to tell the story and to talk to people and to let them know you know where I think there is a certain sense. in how we move on from here and what we do have heard, you say that, through our pain, we're trying to gain some perspective, what has the pain given you as perspective? Well, suffering grief are.
Intensely personal experiences and one of the hardest things for us, and I speak only for us, but it can only imagine that it's the same for everyone, Learning how our processes differ even between us to keep a marriage going. You have to respect the other person's processes. We perspective is a really important part in this tragedy, because I spent many years of my life doing things out of fear. And filters you know, maybe I won't say that maybe I want to that or maybe I'll just be safe here. When this happens, I have felt the sort of release of well. What are my choices? Rain? Do I felt her now? The cost is too great. I have to be open and say, what's in my heart, for me too
through this through love to do that? Doesn't make sense? How is it that you, or was it your faith, that you immediately went to that allowed you to choose love was was that it pray for me it was faith and humanity and community. We have one of the things I am grateful for every single day are my family and friends and my church, because I we have an incredible network of people for us and let us I don't think I could make it without you know. Over the years with the upper show, I interviewed hundreds of people and the and thousands of people with varying stories.
Pain in tragedy and loss and in multiple cases, people break up marriages or destroyed, and the families fall apart. Easy says because, as you can see how, because of exactly what you just said, people dont know how to let other people grieve the way they need to and no to people grieved to say. Well, what it cut boils down to for me is is having a reason to live Frederick Nietzsche said: if a person who has a lie to live can bear almost anyhow and and and that's, You know if you have a reason to live, the mistake is looking at life and thinking This is where I am. The mistake is looking at life in thinking. I have nothing. Life has nothing left to give me because of my tragedy, and you know, in order,
its moments, we have been there weren't, you told you will be happy again. Are you were well joy? I guess the hate the key to that is. Is it it doesn't really matter what you expect from life. What matters is what life expect from you, you have and to be able to see that and accept. That is a very important step to find your way out of the dark, but one or two things- and I remember where we heard this- maybe you can tell me d, but somebody said to us: ok, you can ever feel at home in your heart. You can't do, but what you can do you can cover your heart All of this love to protect that sacred hole, and you got your heart bigger. They had to make it because live can only grow out right. So that's what you do. Is you protect that whole? You can't fill. It can't feel it, but you can. tat and grow, and our job is to make our hearts bigger than the lost now bigger than the loss
There's only one way to do that. There's only one way to go. You just have to make your decisions love and when we make a decision at a fear, that's when we have a strong. How do you each of you has changed. Can you tell me how this I eat? You were saying that its unimaginable for you, but also for anybody from the outside to even understand, although the multiple layers, how his changed you it and it makes speed, pay more more courageous.
Because I realized the value to such a greater extent than before this happened, the value of the moment, the value of my relationships with people and the value of my truth, I'm more courageous! That's how I changed, but my tools I had before Ben died where there, because I had worked hard on them, so I use those tools to, but now, at the beginning I found none of these tools are working but they're, starting to work a little bit modules. What do you mean? I always
I had learned this from LA from you my gratitude. This regrettable journal becomes about and and also affirmation send embracing my creativity and all that comes into play now, because now, maybe that cup of coffee is awesome right now or later focus on those small thing whatever? Wherever that you know, and here's a big one because of the tragedy, there are four or five couples who I didn't know before, who lost a child, who, I feel so close to and I mean not only an alien on us and we want nothing more than to be there for them as our gifts that we have here? How has it change? You has a change in your work,
the view it has. I think this has definitely made me. Look at the bigger bigger questions. I never read. Viktor Frankl book man search for meaning until now doktor. Viktor Frankl was a prominent austrian neurologist in psychiatrist, who lost everything in the holocaust. while he was imprisoned, did not to concentration camps, he lost his mother, father, brother and his pregnant. Why. But Doktor Frankel survived and in nineteen forty six he public the international best seller man. Search for meaning he wrote that even at Auschwitz, some prisons- were able to find a reason to live if only help one another through the day, and this sense of purpose was the key to carrying on when all seem lost. I stumbled. On a passage from it and it was a pass.
About the enduring nature of love in times of grief and crisis, and- and so I went to that book for quickly and devoured- it in small pieces, because it's a very difficult we but there is so much in there and he comes to the same things over and over again things that resonate so clearly. For me, you know no person you you just cannot do wrong to others, even if a long has been done to you. He said
the that's, how hard it is very hard. It resonates so clearly, and he says our purpose is to find the answers to the questions that life presents us and the problems that life gives us every day. The best solutions in the best answers to those questions. That is what it ultimately me and to do that with love because, as he says, our ultimate goal, man's ultimate goal is, is too of is gonna, be found in love, and he says the salvation of man is found in love and through love and that's in one sense, the salvation and christian sense and tradition, but he's also talking through his experience about survival. Yes in a concentration camp, yeah absolutely have so so it's pretty encompassing and that's how its changed me: I've I've I've had to look into some great big questions and
never felt like. I was staring into the abyss in my life, but I feel that way now I just I am much more open to these things. Did you all go through the stages of grief shock anger, denial, right acceptance and those stages in. Situation when it's up when it's a violent loss of a six year old, you bouts all over the place, You're, it's it's not it's, and I sometimes even I think I've said to my battles and using the word. Progress is not really even appropriate. You know you can't even think of it as a progression, not a straight line by any means. you're over here one day or over there. The next you couldn't you don't know where you're going to be when you wake up literally is- and this is, I think, fairly universal minute to minute at the beginning, an hour by hour. There are the angry days and there are the days were Brad Day. Look like well for me, a bad days is when I cannot get to that place that I need to be to be open and cynicism takes over and
prostration takes over and the desire for revenge takes over. It is strong stuff and there are. There are difficulties in even in that so corrosive. There are difficulties and even getting through the rest, It is so corrosive Miss pennies body. When I had a bad day. He was such a love of a little boy. Always let me kiss him and had them all day long. MRS idle lights, and I just have this body announced cry and I'll stay in bad or honest, I'm just Crile day this cry and sad and just that the loss of jobs, never be right, it will never be. You know, and you start to go down. That path said the man you have to give in to your toolbox. and use all the things that you do to help you on those darkest days you go to the toolbox, you go to God, you go to love, you go to prayer, you go to all of that.
Heard that you ve said granting that we want sandy hook to be remembered not for the places happen, but for the change, We made is that with the sandy hook, promise is serious and promise. As about that, because what the Santa have promised says is this time. Things would be different, because this time we're gonna work together and find a holistic way to make all of this right from your community king. Wherever you live, we have to take steps and so from Santa. Point of view. We are going to work towards that. The women in figure that out the words are our hearts are broken, but our spirit is not as part of the part of the same problem as part of that formalised piece of speech and of its a beautiful piece of thing and the first time we heard it. I was so so uplifted by just the idea that our neighbours and friends, many of whom we had never met.
Came around us in this way and lifted us up in this way in the first mission of the promise is to support the aid in any way they can these families us. You know people ask us often enough. What can we do What can we do have an end? My answers change slightly. I think now, let's start starting your community. Starting your community alike like my church has and make it be about helping children to be able to find a safe place to go to be heard to be supported and we ve had them in the past. But let's, let's make a more assertive effort here and that's how people can really make change happen. That's one of them.
the ways that they can, because you, you are all part of community where you were in the city of Vienna and wherever you are to know that the love that you have to offer and to share with other people and your ability to do that. Your willingness to do that. That's what they were. Change comes right, yeah this ass David has put. It is a tipping point if ass may be. The tipping point who knows when we look back at this time are, are honesty, our true things, let's work together, because I don't think I can survive this kind of tragedy without doing is this. There can be a single person in the world who thinks this is ok in their right mind,
and in this country. I believe that that this fact that you bring up is, it is probably one of the most significant areas of common ground that we can find with those on the other side of this conversation. Who could justify the numbers even since December, Fourteenth right the number of school shootings. I've been half a dozen. I think now the number of people who Irish who in the world thinks that number is okay. So do you will consider yourself advocates now and advocates form well. You know why I am an advocate for women advocate for love and cannot survive in. No I'd like to consider myself an advocate for common sense, some sensible answers to things. You know. people hang on to their beliefs very, very strongly.
So, let's find out. Why were hanging onto these things and, let's figure out, if there's a place where we can come Heather and say you know what I agree with this. I agree with that. You know Do you need there any rational, sensible reason You need a magazine that holds thirty rounds. Do you have that reason, because what you are saying is that you're not saying let them we need all the gun, knowing? Why not? Let us never gonna happen that that's not letting the safety issue, and there was something that you said. You see we cannot demonize or vilify someone who doesn't agree with you, because the minute you do that your discussion is over and we can do that any longer. The problem is to enormous. There has to be some way that this darkness can be banished with light.
look you get up in the morning and every decision you make you either make it out of fear or you make it out of Love Epsom and that's it that's really all. There is scant and there's nothing else so So how do you take someone who's, making their decisions out of fear and help them and how do we do that as a culture? How do we shift the ship. How do we, in your words, take the darkness and banish with light? Yes really with because walking towards a dark or working towards light, does the same thing walking towards fear and walking towards love. As you approach, the year anniversary is their anxiety about that or is every day the saying? Yes, anxiety about the yes, but yes and yes, yes, MIA, because every day we hear from the fourteenth of every month from people.
you know, and as the year approaches, of course that's going to be difficult, but also its difficult every day. It's all, I have a certain amount of trepidation. The year anniversary. We talk about it with our friends in these this group of families. but were that we resonate with. We don't know what we're gonna do we we don't know what to do. We haven't figured it out yet Maybe we don't need a figure that worried me. I mean You know so much of this journey has been about just trying to figure out what's happening this very second and we're always surprised. I always think we're going to be fine in this situation or ass any situated given situation and you walk in and you find out. We are not fine or you I can do a situation that you think it's gonna be a real bad situation and it turns out to lift you and help you
and here you in a way you ve, never could have foreseen it's impossible to foresee that stuff it. Yes, there s anxiety and also the triggers just come from everything. Yes, everything, everything and isn't this, what someone shared one of them parents lost a child that ITALY will have a new normal. So now you're in you're, making a new law allowing it to be created around us, because we to the degree that we have any control over. What that is, we do what we can, but I know where you are until you there many cases, so we we try to be sensitive to each other to night to our families. To our friends, it's not.
How do you work at remembering been with love without putting a burden on need? We get some guidance with, but need is a boy who needs to talk about the elephant in the room he has to talk about. So we talk about ban. Even if we have tears, we always talk. At hand- and we at we also must know what name wants to talk about about. How do you know and he's very open with us about, and it's it's hard it's hard. I mean imagine you know here we are grown adults who feel like. We have some understanding of our emotional terrain and helping neat navigate. That, for him, is it's it's really hard and and he's gonna be dealing with this for the rest of his life and
She gets older as he makes these connections as he learns things and puts things together pop it's going to come and we have to be ready to guide him through that and help him through that. You talked about those moments tell when you I thought it was so poignant when you were sharing about you no good days and bad days, Bad days when you are angry and do want revenge and all of that and you have to go into the toolbox, do you physically consciously Satan self. I'm gonna now go sit with my Tell for I'm going right here run I had to call my friend. I've got a I have to. I know what I'm gonna. Do. I'm gonna write down everything I'm grateful for this moment for those genes. Answers.
are sometimes external. Mind tend to be a little more internal. I have found great comfort in the concept. Carts concept of the observer and by observer is when you don't let the thought to take over, but you are in your observers, space where we where the real you reside and you can just watch those thoughts from the spaces of of peace and centre. Agnes observed them ass why we get along in the moment his eye. I love that about David, that he can he's my beautiful thinker. He thinks about everything. He helped me to see where my thought process will go sometimes in a way that's not gonna, be helpful and I think sometimes
Maybe I give you some think about something. This is a heavy heart. Marriage is a lot of ways in a lot of ways. We complement one another in that way. I love that it works pretty well yeah. What do you think been inspired? My? Where do you think he is In your own region, but I think he's in, I think he's in a lot of places- I think he's in Heaven, but it's not like that cloud place with the guy with the beer. He's an he's in he's in the bird, sometimes he's in the sky. He's in my heart he's with made he's talking to friends he's in my dreams his he's everyone. You really is everywhere, I mean you know he came, He came from us, and we are still here and he's here and.
There is an element to, Kidnapping and being open to those things that is so satisfying for that I am so very grateful so what do you want people to know? most about, then any I have failed to keep forgetting tat people any loved lighthouses. It was his favorite thing in the world and I often ask myself the guy So that up or something did he show Ben lighthouses around it because he was so obsessed with and when you think about what a life ass is shows the light right, so we can see the way So he is gonna, be our light. Bends, lighthouse and we're gonna think about think about
And when you see I house and think about how how the light leads us right, it's one of those things such as I just picture and they just appear now, like only Lighthouse lighthouses appear. You won't have to I was so impressed with you from the bill Moyers Interview that I just wanted to be in your presence just to see people who walk the talk. We do a lot of talking about it on the show. I know you ve seen the shell, but you guys are living it and walking the talk. You are You are what spirituality is what we have best reason in the world. Worst reason than the best reason you know, then he is on the path ahead of us, and I thank you for your example. I thank you. For example. Thank you.
I'm over Winfrey and you ve been listening to supersede conversations the pod cast. You can follow superficial on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook if you haven't yet go to apple podcast, unsubscribe rate and review of this plant gas join me next week for another supersede conversation. Thank you for listening.
Transcript generated on 2020-10-09.