On September 11, millions of Americans marked the 15th anniversary of the 911 Terror Attacks. On September 12, 90 days following the Orlando terror attack, dozens gathered at the Pulse nightclub throughout the day and late into the evening to remember lost family and friends.
You cannot visit the Pulse memorial site without tears. Having visited the site 8 times, there is a certain rhythm that emerges. Mothers tend to visit during the day. They comfort one another at the place where their children were last alive.
In the early evening, parents come together. Some come nearly every evening to replace burned out candles with new ones to burn through another night. It is nearly as if parents are tucking their children into bed each night. Parents who cannot touch, hold or kiss their children come back over and over again to be near their babies.
The shuttered nightclub is surrounded by fencing covered in black mesh tarp. Silver markers allow visitors to write onto the tarp greetings from across the world. Messages like Love from Sandy Hook, Sweden Sends Love and Boston is Orlando Strong cover the tarp. At the base of the fence are fresh and fading flowers, burning and melted candles, photographs of loved ones and artistic memorial gifts made of glass, wood and stone.
A miniature stone garden, part of the rock landscaping near the front of the nightclub, has become a rock garden full of memorial messages. Sharpie pens are available. You can pick up a rock, write a message and place it on the curb surrounding the stone garden. I wanted to say so many things, but decided on: “May God comfort all who grieve.”
A mother from Michigan flew to Orlando just to be close to LGBT+ people. Her daughter came out last month. She was shocked and felt fear about her daughter’s future.
“I came here to gain understanding. These young people could be my daughter. Coming to the Pulse site has helped me gain compassion for LGBT+ people. I love my daughter so much.”
A gay activist has an intense look hardened by a life of persecution and family rejection. After talking a bit, I gained the courage to ask, “What if Christians who have different beliefs want to extend love to Orlando’s LGBT+ Community — would it be accepted?”
Suddenly, his face softened. His look of anger turned to childlike innocence. He paused, looked me in the eyes and gently said, “We will accept love from anyone.”
A father grabbed my shirt collar. It was a bit shocking. I wondered if he was experiencing the anger stage of grief. He kept whispering to me, “I got my boy! I got my boy!” I thought he was possibly in denial about losing his son in the terror attack. Then, he said:
“All his life my boy never listened to me. That night, I told him, ‘Don’t go to that place. Don’t go to work tonight.’ He never listened to me his whole life, but that night he listened to me. I tell ya, I got my boy.”
The man pointed at 25-year old Daniel who was squatting down staring into candlelight. His father said, “I buy the candles. We come here together. We remove burned out candles and replace them with new ones. He remembers his coworkers and friends. I just thank God that I got my boy.”
Read Part 3 of this 4-part blog series.