Christa McAuliffe & the Gift We Gave Her Family

space shuttleWhere were you when the space shuttle Challenger exploded? It's the question all bloggers and tweeters are asking on the 25th anniversary of one of our nation's greatest tragedies. The ship blew up just seconds after launch at 11:38 EST in the morning. Look at your clock. That's right about now. I think we should all be silent for a moment.

Silence. When I think of that word, I can't help but think of the families of the seven astronauts, including the husband and two now grown children of perhaps the most celebrated crew member, teacher Christa McAuliffe. That's how her family must have reacted at the moment when the white ship disappeared from the sky that January day in 1986.


Can you imagine being there, following the ship's path as your husband or loved one ascended farther and farther into the sky, and the abrupt, unexpected moment when everything changes. That second or millisecond of pause where you try to resolve what your eyes are seeing with what your brain is telling you has just happened, and the rest of your body trying to figure out how to react to it.

How else could you react but in astonishment? In disbelief? In horror? In total silence?

At least for the first few moments, before the grief and realization build in you so quickly that you have an internal and external explosion of your own. I can only assume that is what eventually happened to the McAuliffes after realizing their wife and mom was gone forever. But we can only assume this because the McAuliffes virtually disappeared themselves after the tragedy.

And, hallelujah, we let them. Steven and kids Scott and Caroline were not heard of for years after the explosion. They did not give interviews or talk publicly about Christa's death. The family only resurfaced or issued statements during special commemorations or moments that warranted it, like the statement the family issued last night on the eve of the anniversary:

That people across the country steadfastly remember the crew members of Challenger is both comforting and inspirational to our family. Scott, Caroline and I very much appreciate the kind thoughts and continuous support we have received over the years.

And by support I take this to be leaving them the heck alone to grieve in private and try to live normal lives. Which they did. Caroline and Scott are grown and in their own careers, Steven became a federal judge and is remarried. We allowed them to move on by leaving them alone. Other than a dopey unauthorized movie or two, we know very little about them or the struggles they faced trying to cope with their loss, and that's a good thing. They deserved the privacy we gave them all these years, as much as other families who face similarly horrific situations, and that's something we need to remember just as much as the event that put them in that situation in the first place.

Where were you when the Challenger exploded?

Image via Brent Rostad/Flickr

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