In Honor of Jeremy Richman
Finding the Courage to Understand Tragedy
By Rosalind Wiseman
On March 25th, my friend and colleague, Jeremy Richman, killed himself; succumbing to the grief of the murder of his six year old daughter, Avielle Richman, at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. As I write this the media has already moved on the next predictable tragedy. But what is the point of all of these stories unless we use them to address the problems these tragedies make so real?
Jeremy, of all people, understood this. I met Jeremy Richman and his wife Jennifer Hensel shortly after Sandy Hook when they founded the Avielle Foundation. Both Jennifer and Jeremy were scientists so they used their expertise to try to make sense of the senseless; a young man walking into an elementary school to kill children and the adults who care for them.
Jeremey wanted to make sense of the violence because he knew it was the only way to stop it. He also knew that “senseless” is the word our politicians use who refuse to do the hard work and take the courageous political stands required to effectively address gun violence in our country. It fell to people like Jeremy and Jennifer, neuroscientists and the parents of Avielle, to do the work, while living with their pain.
Jessica Hill/Associated Press
The Avielle Foundation did many things but primarily funded support to neuroscience and public health research with the goal of understanding the structural and chemical elements in the brain that underlie violence or compassion; the interplay between genetics and the environment; the consequences of childhood maltreatment and trauma on the brain, its development, and its elicited behaviors.
For their efforts, they were attacked by Alex Jones who questioned the truth of the Sandy Hook shooting, accused Jeremy and Jennifer of being actors and doubted if their daughter, Avielle, was actually killed. Just for one moment, imagine that you are a parent who has lost a daughter in a school shooting and Mr. Jones, publicly doubts your pain and knows that some of his listeners will go after you as well. Still Jeremy and Jennifer, along with other parents Mr. Jones attacked, would not be bullied into silence. They joined together to sue Mr. Jones for defamation and he is being forced to go through the judicial process as I write.
All while this was happening, Jeremy worked at the Avielle Foundation, was a husband and dad, went to the grocery store, paid bills, and managed saying hello to his Newtown neighbors who adored him. It was a testament to his passion and strength that Jeremy was able to get out of bed every morning and work to understand our national tragedy of school shootings.
A year ago, I went to Newtown to work with the Avielle Foundation. It was a crazy day. I got to our event late because a storm blew through as I was driving in from New York City. Trees and powerlines were down everywhere. Jeremy and I laughed as we made backup plans and I got in and out of my car helping people remove tree branches from the local roads. When I finally arrived, we made the best of it and then went out to pizza with what seemed like most of the Newtown community. Every few minutes people stopped to chat and were so clearly proud of the work he was doing.
Jeremy was a hero, an inspiration and a friend. He did not live in vain. In the midst of grief, he showed us how to live a life of meaning. He was a role model to show all of us that while people in leadership and power may be against you, the work and the rightness of that work never changes.
He changed the lives of so many-including mine.