In the early moments of New Year’s Day 1999, my son Joseph B. Jaskolka was shot in the head by someone who fired their gun into the air to celebrate the new year in Philadelphia. This random act of reckless stupidity changed my family’s lives forever. Although he survived, he is hemiplegic and confined to life in a wheelchair. He has had 36 brain surgeries, 25 surgeries to realign his eyes and a plethora of complications from these procedures. He still has the bullet lodged in his brain to this day. Only as a result of the magic of medical technology, the expertise of some of the finest doctors on this planet, and the amazing will to live has he managed to continue his life. We love him and are extremely proud of his tenacity.
Nearly 20 years ago, my 14-year-old niece graduated from eighth grade in Phoenix. One of her presents was a solo visit to see me in New York City. I was excited to have this time with Shannon, who was the only member of her generation in our family.
But three weeks before her scheduled arrival, my brother called to tell me Shannon was dead. She had been killed by a bullet that dropped from the sky as she talked on her mobile phone in their fenced-in backyard.
After the initial shock and desperation, Otis and Lory, Shannon’s parents, worked with others to increase the penalty in Arizona for recklessly shooting a gun in the air. They also adopted twin boys. I became active in gun violence prevention in New York. Then Lory died of heart problems in 2008 and Otis of cancer in 2015. I became guardian of their 14-year-old twins and moved full-time to Arizona.
Gun violence has changed the entire frame of my life. There are also many small changes.
When the phone rings, I now prepare myself for the worst. I treasure all the adventures of two growing teenage boys. But that also makes me realize what is lost every time a child dies.