Talking to the parent of a child who has died is without a doubt the most gut-wrenching thing I ever have to do in my job. As a parent myself, it's impossible for me to separate the emotions that I have imagining losing a child with the story. It never gets easier, knocking on that door. One look from the grieving mother tells me she knows who I am and why I am there. Sometimes I get doors slammed in my face. I get yelled at. I get lots of "no comments," but more often than not, I find people who want to talk. Oftentimes, they have no interest on going on camera, but they still want to talk.
One day this past summer I approached a mother on the porch of her home after her daughter died in a car crash. Even though it was 11:00 in the morning, she was still in her bathrobe and wearing the long, emotionless face of a woman weighed down by impossible tragedy. At her feet, another child, her youngest, played blissfully unaware of her mother's profound pain. We talked about her daughter, about her hopes and dreams for her oldest child, about how much she was missed. None of this ended up on WRAL that night at her request. But I left her house that day wondering how people can get up in the morning and go through all the routine motions of life after losing a child. She told me it was nearly impossible for her to function, but for the fact that she had a younger child to care for.
This week I had the opportunity to meet the parents of 20-year-old Elena Bright Shapiro. She was a dancer with the Carolina Ballet. On September 11, 2009, she was struck and killed by a man Raleigh Police say was drunk and speeding. He was charged with second degree murder. Her parents, Brantly and David Shapiro, were in court this week as the case is making its way through the justice system. Brantly Shapiro, a ballerina herself, first taught her daughter to dance and then watched her blossom into a professional ballerina.
"She was a lovely student, but she was first and foremost my daughter," Brantly Shapiro said of the dancing bond she shared with Elena.
A little more than a year after their daughter's death, somehow these parents were able to get past the immediate gut-searing pain and put one put in front of the other and go on. They were articulate, composed and thoughtful in what they said in front of our camera. I admired them as much for that as I did for their words. I still couldn't imagine how they were holding themselves together, but somehow they had accomplished this very onerous task. So I asked the question I always ask, 'What do you want us to know about your daughter?'
"Elena has such a spirit of generosity and I think of her as very golden. She's just an adorable, lovely, magnificent person and, you know, she just went ahead of us," Brantly Shapiro responded.