"He Has Become Our Light": Oprah Talks to the Wheelers
Francine: He was in the gym with his class.
Oprah: How do you explain what happened? How do you help him remember Ben without putting too much of a burden on him?
Francine: Nate is a boy who needs to talk about the elephant in the room. He has to talk about Ben. And we do, too. We listen to whatever Nate wants to say about him. He's very open with us about it.
David: It's been hard helping him navigate his way through all of it. He doesn't yet understand the many layers of emotions he's feeling. But he's going to be dealing with this the rest of his life, and as things come up, we will have to be ready to help him through it.
Oprah: Going back to Ben's question about forgiveness...Francine, at the time, did you think it was just another question in the long line of 6-year-old questions?
Francine: Well, I thought maybe it was a subject they were talking about at Sunday school, because he loved Sunday school and because I had never spoken to him about forgiveness before. As far as that question goes...the answer seems simple, but it's not. Like, I can't lie to you now and say, Oh yes, I've forgiven everybody, or myself.
Oprah: Why do you need to forgive yourself?
Francine: For the feelings of guilt that have come up. I know it's natural after something so horrific, but I also know there's no room for it.
Oprah: By guilt, do you mean the what-ifs?
Francine: Yes. Because we had signs not to send Ben to school that day.
David:D That morning, Ben had a sniffle, and Francine had asked me if we should send him to school. I said, "He'll be fine. Send him. It's not a problem." I now have to own that.
Francine: And I was musical director of a show at the time, and my original thought was to take Ben and Nate out of school on Friday and bring them to the afternoon show. But then I decided, no, they should go to school. So I took them to the performance the night before instead.
Oprah: Did you ask Ben if he wanted to go to school?
Francine: I did. And he wanted to go. He loved school.
David: When something like this happens, it's very hard to look back and say to yourself, with confidence, I did everything I was supposed to do, and I did it right.
Oprah: Well, you certainly did everything that you knew how to do at the time.
Oprah: I've heard you say, David, that your job now is to protect Ben's spirit. Tell me about that. What does that mean?
David: That I'm not done being Ben's father. I am still the father of two boys. And while Ben and his classmates have been memorialized in many kind and loving ways, I've come to understand that there's only one memorial that matters to me as Ben's father, and that's how I live my life from here on out. And part of that is sharing our story, and talking about how I think we, as a society, should move on from here.
Next: "If this is the tipping point, then let's all start working together for change."