Sea Foam: Arizona shooting victim struggles to live with tragedy, loss

January 31, 2011 

Thanks to Meg Engler of Bluffton for linking us to a special perspective on the Tucson, Ariz., mass shooting.

Meg's cousin, Suzi Hileman, was a victim in the Jan. 8 rampage outside a supermarket, where U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was holding one-on-one meetings with constituents.

Six people were killed and 14 wounded before a suspect was subdued. Suzi Hileman was shot three times -- in the chest, abdomen and right hip -- and will be in a walker or wheelchair for months.

She is the 58-year-old retired social worker who took a little girl to the event because her neighbor's child was interested in government. Christina-Taylor Green, seen as a child of hope since her birth on Sept. 11, 2001, did not survive the shooting.

In the chaos, Suzi found herself on the pavement, bleeding, looking into her little friend's eyes, saying, "Don't you leave me, Christina-Taylor Green. Don't you die on me."

Suzi and her husband, Bill, are trying to cope with the trauma while accommodating interviews by the network anchors, the morning shows and the nation's largest newspapers.

Meg, who is an advertising account executive with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette, shared a link to her cousin's blog. Suzi Hileman tries to blog every weekday morning at "The Burrow" (www.ashleighburroughs.blogspot.com) under her "blogonym," Ashleigh Burroughs. She gave us permission to share some of her thoughts, and encourages everyone to drop by her blog site and join the conversation.

On Jan 20, Suzi wrote this in a blog post titled "Welcome To My World":

"I got a hug from President Barack Obama. And I was in my 'jammies' (oh, all right, for accuracy's sake it was a hospital gown, but you know it wasn't an outfit I'd planned and considered for months). (A friend) and I and the most powerful man in the world were in a room together. Hugging. I was being thanked for encouraging a young girl to participate in the political process by the man who owns the political process. Michelle (Obama) and I talked about kitchen gardens and broccoli.

"Secretary of Homeland Security and (oh, why did you leave us?) former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano said goodbye to (my daughter) by her family nickname after she and (my son) were shown holding hands in front of millions of people on television from the first row of the McKale Center as President Obama spoke to the nation on Wednesday night.

"And Christina is still dead.

"A young friend and I went to the grocery store to meet our elected representative on a sunny Saturday morning and I couldn't bring her home to her parents.

"My body is perforated and glued and pinned and plated and my friends don't have their little girl any more.

"The publicity, the accolades, the exposure ... they are all very exciting.

"I'd trade them in a heartbeat for the chance to let Christina beat me at pick-up sticks."

Suzi Hileman's other blog posts since the mass shooting have included an inspiring open letter to the people of Tucson. Oddly, she wrote in a blog post last March that she was uneasy about "Bring Your Guns To Washington Day" and the proliferation of loaded guns in society.

Following is Suzi Hileman's first post about the Tucson shooting. It was posted Jan. 16, eight days after she became a victim in the tragedy that rocked the nation.

What I Know

By Suzi Hileman

I know that short Jewish girls from New York do get shot.

I know that time does stand still.

I know that my grandmother was right to remind me to wear nice underwear in case it had to be cut off me on the concrete in front of Safeway on a sunny Saturday morning.

I know that total strangers will put themselves in danger to save the lives of others.

I know that being a passenger in a med-evac helicopter is a very cool experience, and that I was right to turn my head and see my town spread out below me.

I know that I am loved.

I know that Gabby Giffords and I are married to very handsome, very passionate, very wonderful men.

I know that Pilates and yoga and strength training and aerobic exercise provide you with "remarkable bones," which can hold a host of pins and plates and other paraphernalia, and I know that without my time in the gym my experience right now would be very different.

I know that (friends and family members) will drop whatever they are doing and get on a plane and hold my head and my foot and my heart for as long as I need them, no matter how tired or busy or impoverished they are feeling.

I know that I am loved.

I know that words typed on the screen and sent across the ether to an injured soul in the desert Southwest do have remarkable healing powers; I've spent the last hour medicating myself with your healing vibes and heartfelt good wishes.

I know that it is possible to watch the light go out of another person's eyes. I do not know if it is possible to live with that knowledge. I do know that I will try.

I do not know why.

I do not understand.

I find no rhyme or reason in the whole situation, but I do know I am grateful, so very, very, very grateful, to all of you.

I'll be back tomorrow with more. For now, know that I love you all.

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