What are you doing this year for the anniversary? Where will you be? Is “anniversary” even the right word? These questions begin to rise up like bubbles with increasing frequency as we approach December 14th on the calendar, the day our children were killed alongside their classmates and teachers in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School.
We do our best to steel ourselves, think creatively, and plan mindfully; but as we draw near each year there’s just no getting around it. This date looms heavy on the horizon and waits like an immovable boulder in the middle of the road.
My dear friend JoAnn whose beautiful daughter, Charlotte was killed in the tragedy recently wrote with bare honesty about her season of grief each year. I was relieved to read that I am not the only one who finds herself – well, not herself, in the months surrounding this date. Just a month ago, I found myself completely tongue-tied at one point in a talk I must have given a thousand times. I wondered if something was wrong with my brain, if I should see a doctor. I had been feeling fuzzy, exhausted, and more forgetful lately.
An honest conversation with another mother of loss revealed the truth. I had been busy busying myself as I often do, hoping to escape what I cannot.
“It’s just a date on the calendar,” I tell myself. We miss our children, their classmates, and teachers every day. We miss the lives we had. We’ll never forget. So why the need–or the expectation– for remembrance rituals?
My family celebrates Josephine’s birthday only a few days before the “anniversary” date. However bittersweet, it’s a gift to us, to many that loved her, and many that have come to know her after her death. Old friends and family members reach out with posts and texts, and new friends & neighbors, families of loss, first responders, and supporters with kind nods and gestures too, many wearing purple. How Joey loved her purple.
Our Newtown neighbors, stalwart support for us that day and in the aftermath, still decorate the street with purple balloons every year on her birthday. Our former babysitter releases balloons as we did together in our backyard seven years ago. Last year our new neighbors lit their lampposts with purple bulbs in beautifully simple solidarity. Rituals.
As I write, I realize the answer to my own question about why we feel compelled to mark these days. My faith teaches me that my daughter is safe and happy, growing up in heaven. I find immeasurable peace in this knowledge. But here on earth, we “do something” together to support each other. We’re not made to do this alone.
While every day is a day of remembrance for us, this year our families will remember the lives of our daughters, Josephine and Emilie, with laughter and tears, shared stories, treasured memories, and our own forms of remembrance.
This year I find myself looking at December 14th as a day to remember others–those that supported us that day, and in the following weeks, months, and years. Every prayer, every note, every kindness sent to help us heal. We remember.
Last week I was decorating for the holidays late one night and caught a glimpse of purple outside. I looked out the window to see the street lined with purple lamp lights once more…and it took my breath away.
I got the message. We remember.
Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools. A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.