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I’m So Sorry, Francis

What do you say to a child who’s lost his mother to a brutal and senseless act of violence?

Somehow “I’m sorry” sounds so inadequate.

Francis Pop

I’m sorry, Francis, that you will grow up knowing your mother only as a memory. You’ll grow up hearing what a “saint” she was, what an “angel” she was. So many people loved her so much, I bet you’ll even get a little sick of hearing about it. Growing up is difficult enough, but it will be extra hard for you now. It’s such a shame.

You came and played in our house last Sunday. I didn’t even give you a hug. Now you’re hundreds of miles away. I can’t imagine you’ll ever be visiting our house again, though of course you’re welcome anytime. I’m sorry I didn’t spend more time with you when you were here.

I can’t help but feel responsible for your mother’s death. No, I didn’t pull the trigger. That was the act of some deranged individual. But that individual was a product of a society, my society. It was for love of this society that your parents came back against the odds. It was our violent society that killed your mother. I’m so sorry for that betrayal.

You’re just a child, Francis, just two years old. You’re an innocent. You can’t be held responsible for the state of affairs here. But I’m a little older. I will be 40 in just a few days. It’s hard and harder for me to blame previous generations for the troubles we face. At some point, I have to accept some degree of responsibility for what our society is. How can I take pride in the good without feeling shame for the bad?

Shame is not a popular emotion these days. I don’t know that it ever has been. But I do know this: Any adult who doesn’t feel shame for the violence that continues to propagate through our society needs a head examination. Shame leads to responsibility. Shame is the first step. The next step is getting involved in the community to address the root causes of violence. That’s the only response that means anything.

Francis, your parents understood this. I believe they had the clearest sense of this responsibility of anyone I’ve met. They understood this responsibility was not a burden but a joy. That joy is sadly diminished now. I can only hope against hope that it is not extinguished.

Xy and I spent a few hours Saturday boxing up your toys. What a sad task. As the day went on I found I was having trouble breathing at times. I lost my appetite and couldn’t seem to eat much even as I got weaker from hunger. As the evening wore on I began to feel feverish and got the chills. I was literally sick with grief. And yet this grief is but a fraction of what your father and family are feeling. Sadness comes into every life, but I hope very little of such gut-wrenching grief comes into yours. This is surely enough.

I’ve been listening to “Never Be Alone,” (mp3) another sweet song by the Troublemakers, and imagining it as a message from father to son. It probably wasn’t written with that intent, but it certainly seems to work. I hope some day you find these lyrics as comforting as I do now. More than that, I still hope for the development of the “beloved community,” so that all of us will “never be alone.”

Francis & Brad

You’re too young to know what’s going on now, Francis. One day your mother was here. Now she’s gone. As you grow, I hope you’ll be able to understand what happened here, to comprehend the tragic dimensions of this horrible thing, even though that will be painful.

And I hope you’ll be able to forgive us. We’ve truly made a mess of things.

Published inFriendsNew OrleansPix


  1. Oh, darlin’, I’m crying for you, Bart, for you and your sweet wife, for Francis and his heartbroken father and lost mother. I’m so sorry. This mess belongs to all of us.

  2. I was just thinking about what you tell a 2-year-old who has lost his mother – what confusion for a growing brain at that stage of life. Thank you for posting these pictures – that’s the only way I would have known that I’ve met Paul but didn’t at all know what a wonderful person he is and what a great wife he once had.

  3. I can’t get this whole heartbreaking thing, or this sweet little boy, off my mind.

    But I’m so glad that Francis was physically unharmed.

    As a mother of a toddler, I can’t help but presume to know that she would have wanted that more than anything. That she would want him to continue to be loved and nurtured and supported. And I trust that his family and his family’s friends will do all of these things. That is the bright spot here.

  4. Andrea and PJ Andrea and PJ

    Hey B,
    I have been thinking the same thing you have been thinking today. It was a little uncanny to read your posting. You being the activist, you have decided to take action. I am an artist, so I have decided to make art. PJ and I are going to be working tonight on a webpage devoted to a project I will call “The Francis Pop Story Box.” They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I am hoping to call forth a village of caring and creative people to create small works of art and memories and stories about Helen to go into a box that I am making, to be given to Francis on his 3rd Birthday. I am hoping that having a box full of memories and artwork from his mother’s friends will help him have a connection to her when he is older.

    We will send you the link when we get it finished. I know you can help us be in touch with her friends and family who want to contribute.

  5. I have a two year old daughter and 6 year old son…..everytime I think about this, the anger just overcomes me. It just breaks my heart….If they need anything, please let us know.

  6. chrissieroux chrissieroux

    You’ve voiced my thoughts exactly. I’m so sorry for failing Francis and his family. For failing my own daughter. For sitting back and watching this happen when I should be raging and screaming and doing something, dammit.

  7. Chances are those of you that were close to Helen have already thought of this, but I’d like to suggest that ya’ll put together a book of memories of Helen for Francis – pictures, thoughts, etc. My mother was killed by a drunk driver when I was 2, so I can say one of the worst things is growing up with no real memories. A friend of hers thought at the time to write a letter to me for when I was older relating his thoughts and experiences of and with my mother, and that has been an invaluable treasure.

    So sorry.

  8. […] And from Editor B, who’s writing has been breaking my heart: I can’t help but feel responsible for your mother’s death. No, I didn’t pull the trigger. That was the act of some deranged individual. But that individual was a product of a society, my society. It was for love of this society that your parents came back against the odds. It was our violent society that killed your mother. I’m so sorry for that betrayal. […]

  9. richard richard

    thanks so much for posting the troublemakers mp3s. i’ve been really devastated by this whole thing, paul and helen are/were friends of mine, & i recieved care at his clinic. i’ve been wanting to hear his music through this last week, and regretting i didn’t buy a cd from him years ago. any more would be appreciated. at people are organizing a zine/book/archieve about helen for francis and everyone who loved her. thank you.

  10. Elvis Francis Cork Elvis Francis Cork

    Reading through the many articles on the tragedy of Helen’s death, my eyes welled wet with tears for the future emotional well being of Francis Pop. I too lost my mother to a senseless murder- a brutal stabbing in our home- at an equally young age. No days have past since where I have not had to wade through those graphically dark memories. May every nook and cranny of Francis’ life be filled with love and compassion from those around him as he will likely always carry a heavy heart.
    My love and understanding goes out to the survivors.

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