For some parents of Parkland victims, time doesn't heal all wounds

Posted at 2:01 PM, Feb 13, 2019

The Dworets have made it through what would have been their son's prom, graduation and 18th birthday — yet they say it doesn't get any easier.

ANNIKA: "100 freestyle was his top event, and he got disqualified. He's probably not been disqualified in anything since he was like 10. And he was so disappointed because you know that was his thing. And somehow in all that disappointment, he turns around and wins the 50 free and qualifies for state."

MITCH: "He wrote a paper on it, which we found. 'Don't Let A Stumble In the Road Ruin Your Journey.' That was the title."

MITCH: "He was he was a good young man, you know? He's a product of good upbringing. He worked hard. He had trials and tribulations like any young person, but he overcame those. He was a good-looking young man, you know? Looking back, to the '50s or something, he would have been that guy, you know? You think, 'Wow, there goes the swim team captain' kinda thing. You know, 'the American dream.' What happened? He's dead. He got killed in a school."

For the parents who lost a child in last year's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, every day is Feb. 14. And while the country has largely moved on to the latest mass shooting, these parents are still dealing with the loss — and it's brutal.

MITCH: "Terrible, terrible, terrible feeling. Terrible, terrible feeling. Can't even put words to it. Horrific."

Mitch and Annika Dworet lost their 17-year-old son Nick during the shooting last year. Nick was a senior at MSD High School and was headed to the University of Indianapolis in the fall on a swim scholarship. Their younger son, Alex, was also shot during the attack — but survived.

The Dworets waited an agonizing 12 hours before they found out what happened to Nick. They were the last family told.

MITCH: "It just blows you away. There's not a word to describe the feeling of the trauma at first. It's like, you know, you're hit — flattened. It's surreal. It's an out of body experience, kind of thing. Then, the grief is the grief. The loss, you know? The dream is done, you know? My son is gone."

ANNIKA: "You wake up in the morning and you're like: 'No, why did I wake up to feel this pain? I don't want to be here. I don't want to do this.' But then to meet somebody who went through it. And they're still here. And they're somewhat OK. It kind of gives you that like, OK, I have to go on, you know?"

Since the shooting, the Dworets have received nearly a thousand letters offering prayers, encouragement and well wishes. But some of the best support they've received has been from other parents who have been through what they have.

MITCH: "It started with Lonnie and Sandy Phillips. They were the first couple that we ever met. Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, they lost their daughter in Aurora. … The way they spoke to us and about the things they let us know were coming and just being real people, they didn't want anything. … They just made me feel like there's someone out there who I can cry to or talk to. They said, 'We're going to be here for you, Mitch. We're here.'"

JAMAL: "Is there a piece of advice or something that they told you, that that sticks out in your mind?"

ANNIKA: "Take care of you first."

MITCH: "Take care of us first. Don't get political. Don't go out there and do the fight. You're angry. Don't go there."

ANNIKA: "The anger makes you want to go and change this country's gun laws or you have to go out and change things. I don't want another parent to go through this. Feel this pain. That's the first thought. And they said, you've got to take care of yourself first. And I think they were so right."

And while they wouldn't consider themselves activists, they do want things to change.The Dworets and several other parents who lost a loved one in the shooting formed the nonprofit Stand With Parkland to advocate for safer schools.

ANNIKA: "I feel very strongly about the guns. … No matter how you look at it, you have a sick person, they want do something really bad. When he makes that decision, it makes a difference, what he's holding in his hand, the type of damage he will make. … You want to be there for Nick. You want to hopefully change what will happen so [his death] is not in vain."

MITCH: "I don't see it as political, people make it political. … As far as my son's story, I can only speak to my son and who he was, and we all lost that day, we all lost. He would have been contributing to society in a masterful way."

But don't confuse moving forward with moving on. As the one-year anniversary approaches, the Dworets have made it through what would have been Nick's prom, graduation and 18th birthday — yet they still say it doesn't get any easier.

MITCH: "The cycle. You know, the firsts are done. OK, the firsts are done then, what about the seconds? OK, but the firsts are done. We got through our first Thanksgiving with my empty … even today sitting, where Nick, you know, at the table I sat across from Nick throughout my life eating and he's not ... Thanksgiving, Christmas, same thing, you know? For us, it's truly every day. It doesn't really go away. They say, 'time heals all wounds.' Not this one. Not this one."