A decade after Sandy Hook, Jimmy Greene reflects on daughter's joy and grief of catastrophic loss
Jimmy Greene has now lived with grief longer than his daughter lived.
“There’s a saying in our culture that time heals all wounds,” Greene said. “I wouldn’t say that’s true in my case.”
“I would say that over time, I’ve become more familiar with the grief,” Greene said. “I’m able to manage it a bit more.”
Ana Grace Márquez-Greene was one of 20 children and six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Dec. 14, 2012.
“Whenever I think of my daughter, I just think of how loving she was, how much joy she carried in her and how much joy she reflected back out to the world,” Greene said.
The pain of losing a loved one doesn’t go away in 10 years.
Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, an associate professor at Arizona State University’s School of Social Work, said catastrophic loss leads to an enduring grief.
“I don’t think it gets easier,” Cacciatore said. “As we learn to carry it, as we learn to build some psychological and emotional muscle, I don’t know [that] the weight changes, but we change in response … and our psychological and emotional muscles grow stronger.”
Greene said that Ana loved music and that she loved to dance and sing.
She got her love of music from both of her parents. Her mother, Nelba, played the flute. Jimmy plays the saxophone, leads the Jimmy Greene Quartet and is a recording artist.
“As a composer, I’ve written dozens and dozens of songs,” Greene said.
He’s produced two albums in his daughter’s memory — “Beautiful Life” and “Flowers: Beautiful Life Volume II.” “Beautiful Life” was nominated for two Grammy awards.
“The process of making music is quite a beautiful one. In crafting these albums in Ana’s memory, there were a lot of tears.” Greene said.
“There’s a lot of reflection. There’s a lot of memories. There’s a lot of anger,” Greene said. But ultimately, there’s a lot of love and there’s a lot of joy and there’s a lot of gratefulness.
“Grateful that God chose to give us this beautiful little girl. And even though we only had her for six and a half years, our lives are so much better having known her and having had her in our home for that bit of time.”
Living with grief
Greene said music isn’t necessarily an outlet for his grief. He looks at making and playing music as more of a way to express his feelings in the best way he knows how.
“When someone is grieving, when someone is going through a tragic loss — as I have — it’s necessary to find every way possible to express that,” Greene said.
“Music is one of the ways in which I express how I’m feeling. That’s my job as an artist. To express my reality — or my life.”
He does credit faith leaders and mental health professionals with helping him, his wife, Nelba, and his son Isaiah make it through these past 10 years.
Cacciatore, the grief counselor who works at Arizona State, knows catastrophic loss too. Her daughter Cheyenne died in 1994.
“I call it the presence of her absence. It’s still there,” Cacciatore said.
“It’ll be there until I’m not here anymore.”
Cacciatore said one way for grievers to manage how they’re feeling is to make grief a friend and not an enemy. But, she said, a person may need help to do that.
“We have to have a really good social support system because it’s so terrifying and it’s so overwhelming,” Cacciatore said. “Maybe we need good clinical support from a really, really, really, really well-trained counselor or therapist.”
Cacciatore and Greene represent primary grievers. Cacciatore interviewed 15 relatives of Sandy Hook victims for a research project to learn more about what sort of social support was available after the loss of their loved ones. The work received funding from the nonprofit Charlotte Helen Bacon Foundation, which was created in memory of another child killed at Sandy Hook to help bereaved families.
One finding in Cacciatore’s study was that the needs of parents who lost children weren’t adequately addressed by the larger community around them, which she said further revictimized primary grievers.
She said society should defer to primary grievers, particularly parents who’ve lost children.
“There’s not a single day when a parent who loses a child doesn’t get out of bed in the morning and have to face this loss,” Cacciatore said.
Jimmy Greene and Dr. Joanne Cacciatore spoke with Connecticut Public for “Cutline: 10 Years After Sandy Hook,” which airs on Connecticut Public and streams at CTPublic.org on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 8 p.m.
This story has been updated.