For Montclair resident and writing coach Kim Marsh, the grief of the May 24 shooting that killed 19 children and three adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas needed to be addressed. She suspected she wasn’t alone.

“Community Session: Reflecting + Writing Through Grief (Honoring Uvalde, TX)” was a virtual event and fundraiser Marsh held June 2 — just a little more than a week after the shootings — The goal of the event, attended by about 10 people, was to provide a safe place for reflecting on any grief that attendees were holding onto, and express themselves by responding to prompts. Montclair Local is only quoting presenters for this article, to protect the privacy of other participants.

"We are not here to solve everything, fix anything, correct injustices, change laws, or change minds over the next 90 minutes," Marsh said. "We are here to honor our humanity and each other's humanity."

The community session began with some grounding announcements by Marsh, who welcomed attendees to speak or type their comments and reflections, but assured those attending that comments weren’t required. Marsh said the decision to hold the event came to her quickly, and resulted from the grief she experienced after hearing about the tragedy in Uvalde.

"I couldn't stop crying, I couldn't sleep and I did the only thing I could to calm my mind and I wrote," she said. 

Marsh did not intend to share her writing when she first began, but ultimately decided to post a piece — “The Day After. Uvalde, TX” — on her website (openbookco.com, in the blog section) and share it with the group.

She wrote of the agonizing minutes she waited for her 8-year-old child to come home after learning of the horror half a country away, when an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and two teachers, and injured 17 others, with an AR-15-style rifle before eventually being shot and killed by a member of the U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit. 

“Usually — as parents — it's the opposite wish,” she wrote. “Just a few more minutes for me to sleep. To read. To eat. To daydream. To anything. But, today was different. I wanted him here. Now. An ache in my chest for two hours.”

And she expressed grief and exasperation over the harsh reality of shootings that seem to never stop.

“To my child … I'm sorry I am raising you in a country that can't get its s—t together,” she wrote. “I'm sorry that the people in power care more about keeping that power than they do about your life. I'm sorry that practicing for a lock-down drill is as matter of fact as taking a math test.”

In the June 2 session, time was dedicated as well to memorializing the victims of the shooting in Uvalde. Marsh had to hold back tears while she read the names of the students and teachers while attendees listened and wiped their eyes.

Marsh introduced Tina Strawn, who describes herself as a “Black joy advocate” and “liberation activist,” and is author of the upcoming novel "Are We Free Yet?: The Black, Queer Guide to Divorcing America." Strawn, originally from Texas, now living in Costa Rica, acknowledged she now feels a detachment from the United States and the tragedies that occur.

“Being able to observe Kim has helped me to connect with the deeper truths, so much that I see that we as Americans have to grieve,” Strawn said. 

She said she was grateful to be with the group, “because I firmly believe that in order to get to a place of collective healing we must first get to a place of collective grieving.”

The rest of the time was dedicated to writing. Marsh shared a series of prompts and provided a few minutes for attendees to write their responses. Writing prompts included “What are you grieving right now?” and “What is the one thing you think is the most unjust in this world?” 

Attendees were not required to share out loud or write specifically about the Uvalde shooting but instead were encouraged to use the writing time however best would serve them. 

The session ended with time for final thoughts, reflections and emotions. Marsh concluded the call by reading a poem by Cleo Wade, "How to breathe when you want to give up," and thanked all attendees for their time and energy. 

“Today I am breathing through fatigue, fear, and feeling overwhelmed,” Wade wrote, and Marsh read. “I breathe because when I breathe, I am reminded that I am alive.”

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