A few days ago we were driving along the pine and oak dappled streets passing the brick and wooden houses we pass everyday on the way home. We saw ranchers, split levels, and A-frames as well as the odd gentrified monstrosity that was formerly a 50s, 60s, or 70s styled family home but is now some garish example of conspicuous consumption out of place among the two and three bedroom homes in our neighborhood. Those houses. Damn, they reek of pride and anticipation that soon, very soon, they shall overcome their common surroundings occupied by elderly holdouts and first time buyers as if they are a giant extended middle finger to those adjacent and across from their projected omnipotence.

a graveyard

Explaining the death of Dr. David Gunn to his grandchildren.

We rounded Teller Lane turning left as we passed the soccer and basketball goals in the yard of the family on the corner.

She was beside me in the passenger’s seat and had not said much since I liberated her from those dastardly day care teachers—she hates daycare because they only give plain chips for snack, and though I appreciate her sentiment since I’m no vanilla chip fan, I’m glad her primary school stressor is chips because the pending divorce keeps her sufficiently distracted, confused, and just plain sad.  Typically, she is abuzz with grade school drama or wiped out from hard play—she is a self professed tom boy after all; however, today she was a bit pensive and hesitant.  I could tell something was clearly on her mind, and it appeared she was working out how to unwind the thread of thought as if in some Theban labyrinth.  I prompted and prodded her about her day without getting overly interrogational.  She is adept at avoidance.

She could sense our proximity to home meaning dinner anxiety, homework, and distraction combined with parental tension.  Quickly, and in a sense angrily, she unburdened herself, “Why don’t I have gandpas?”, she asked.  Her shoulders slumped forward slightly but her eyes engaged mine—as if my eyes regarded themselves—in fixed, intense precision awaiting parental profundity.

I was not surprised by the question. She has asked it before and asks some form of it regularly.  Perhaps, after learning to live in two separate houses as opposed to the one she’s known for seven years, she hoped to immerse herself in the past longing for heritage’s familial fealty; or, she could have merely been curious. Who truly knows the motivations of others much less those of the ones we love, and I love her to the moon and back which obviously means I’m an utter failure at discerning her unstated motivations.

I navigated these waters when the man-boy—your grandson is 16, 6’5’’, is a brunette Pa, and I’d describe him as an old soul if I believed in one—was growing up, and I attempted to answer his inquiries with honesty as opposed to supposed soothing southern platitudes ending in “better place,” “God’s ways are…” and/or “you’ll reconcile one day.” Yet, he knew his mom’s dad, had a close relationship with him for seven years, and, therefore, knew life with a cantankerous yet playful grandfather.  Michael’s death was the first man-boy experienced and it shook him terribly just as the recent death of our traditional family shakes my daughter who’s now the Inquisitor.

Prior to having my own children, I seriously studied and in some way practiced how I would answer the inevitable questions. Unlike the deaths of other forbearers, details of yours are as loaded as the gun that killed you. I knew I had to tell the grandchildren the truth at some point, and, if nothing less, thought a written record would best address the problem of evil I had to narrate. In the event I croaked prematurely, I wanted them to hear the stories from me—or in my words, but never mustered the courage to write the answers until now. 

I, therefore, am left looking at your granddaughter on an otherwise typical sunny and humid southern Friday in August. I look into her eyes which are mine, her brother’s, and yours. I try to summon the wisdom to explain a religiously motivated and condoned murder while searching for a method to breakdown how your job, controversial to some but legal and protected nationwide, was the primary cause of your death while realizing an understanding of that fact is the only way to make any sense of the senseless.  

She should not know the term abortion though she’s heard it. Likewise, it is incomprehensible how she, through no fault of her own, must grapple with the issue at such a young age if I tell her the whole truth. She does not yet have any sexual understanding, but her tender years are hardening and hastening toward experience quickly especially as she struggles to understand a murdered grandfather, let alone one whose murder has the implications of yours. Relatively soon—too soon in my eyes assuredly–abortion will be an all too real and relevant issue for her as a bourgeoning young woman. It remains to be seen whether or not she has the freedom other women have enjoyed for 40 years. She lives in dangerously fundamental times in an even more dangerously fundamental state. If I know anything about your granddaughter, it is that she has your strong will and hunger for justice. Though I cannot predict with certainty where she lands politically as she develops her own identity, I have little doubt her convictions will remain consistent with yours and mine.   

Her brother, eight years her senior, knows you were assassinated and understands it was an act of terror. I had to share the causes and conditions of your assassination with him, and he carried that burden as I did before him and continue to do twenty years later. I do not remember at what age I told him the whole truth.  I asked him if he recalls, and he doesn’t.  Simply stated, he’s always lived with abortion just as I did. Fortunately, or unfortunately, he also realizes the motives of your assassin and has grown up under that shadow. I am happy to report his dedication to our family’s cause.

On that Friday two weeks ago, I mitigated the facts and told Sam again you were killed without getting into the whys and wherefores; instead, I simply said someone killed you and that he is still in prison. She asked why. Why is what I dread for her at such an early age. She’s beginning to learn the mythos of our civilization. While I will facilitate her struggle to differentiate facts from fiction in what she is taught, on this particular Friday, I decided she was not yet ready to learn the whole truth of your assassination or that it was an assassination. It is sufficient and tragic enough to know of and contemplate murder which she has done since she can remember. No granddaughter, regardless of her grandfather’s profession, should have to ask, “but why was he killed.” No father, in the land of the free, should be forced to provide that answer even if the whole answer must wait for the time being. 

David Gunn, Jr. is the son of David Gunn, Sr., the first abortion doctor to be assassinated by an anti-abortion gunman.

Photo by Josh McGinn released under a Creative Commons No Derivatives license.