For Newtown families, Dec. 14 is 'just another day'
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While the nation stops to remember the lives of the 20 children and six adults gunned down a year ago Saturday at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the families still grieving for their lost loved ones say Dec. 14 will be no different for them.
“In all honesty, it's just another day. It's just another day without Dylan. There's no need to mark it because every day we miss him,” said Nicole Hockley of her 6-year-old son. “I think the rest of the country and people feel that the one-year mark has some significance. But it's another passage of time. It doesn't change anything.”
Hockley sat down several weeks ago with NBC’s Kate Snow along with two other families to discuss how they have coped with their loss in the past year. They also talked about efforts to direct their grief and anger into various advocacy efforts in honor of the Newtown, Conn., victims who were killed by 20-year-old Adam Lanza, who took his own life at the school.
For these families, time has become elastic. Some days stretch for an eternity. Others pass by in a blink.
“Time doesn't really seem to follow one day after another at the moment,” said Hockley, who takes time to talk to her son every day. “It feels so many times like he's still just there around the corner. You know, and I can see him where he should be in the house. And so to think that it's almost a year since I've held him, it's no time at all.”
For Mark and Jackie Barden, every day of healing also reminds them of how long ago they lost their 7-year-old son. Thanksgiving and especially Halloween were difficult for them.
“With every minute that passes, we're a minute farther away from our life with our little Daniel. That's hard to deal with,” Mark Barden said.
He recalled how Daniel got up early the morning of the shooting to send off his older brother to school with a hug and kiss. Instead of going back to bed afterward, he told his dad he would rather cuddle. Jackie Barden said that’s what her son was known for.
“I really miss his cuddles. He was really affectionate,” she said, recalling how he especially liked to lay in bed with his books. “He would just wrap his whole body around you. I miss reading to him. I haven't read a book out loud since.”
The past year has been an emotional roller coaster for Erica Lafferty, whose mother was Dawn Hochsprung. The Sandy Hook Elementary School principal died while trying to stop the gunman.
“Honestly, it has been probably the worst and best year of my entire life,” she said.
In July, she got married in a beautifully orchestrated wedding her mother had helped plan. Everything went off without a hitch, she said.
“(It was) exactly how she would want it. We got married at the house that she had just built on the land that my whole family grew up on,” she said. “I wore the dress that we picked out. I wore the shoes that she would've made fun of me for wearing, to no end. I had my hair how she wanted it. And it was a perfect day. She would have loved it.”
Lafferty said she is certain she felt her mother’s presence at the ceremony.
“She gave me a beautiful gust of wind on a very hot day,” she said with a laugh. “She was absolutely there.”
Gilles Rousseau lost his 30-year-old daughter in the shooting. Lauren Rousseau was a first-grade substitute at Sandy Hook on that day. She died along with 15 of the 16 children in her classroom.
"It does feel good to talk about her. It’s my therapy practically. To talk about Lauren makes my day. I think of her all the time and she’s with me in spirit all the time," he said Friday on TODAY.
Rousseau said his daughter loved the school where she taught and loved her principal, whom the family knew because the elder Rousseau had photographed her wedding. He and his wife, Joyce, have started a scholarship fund for students at her former high school who are interested in studying elementary education.
"Lauren, although new to the game, she was very determined to do absolutely the best she could do," said Joyce Rousseau, her stepmother. "She was so determined to become a teacher."
In the months following the shooting, most of the families became advocates for changes in gun control law. They hope to change the tenor of the conversation on gun violence through the organization, Sandy Hook Promise. They also honored their loves ones through the creation of charitable organizations, like the one for Lauren Rousseau. All of the charities can be found on MySandyHookFamily.org.
Hockley and her husband created Dylan’s Wings of Change to help children with special needs, like their son, who had autism.
“He was a flapper. When he would get excited, he would flap really strenuously. And it was just his way of showing happiness and excitement," she said. "And I asked him once, 'Why do you flap?' And he said, ‘Cause I'm a beautiful butterfly.’ And that just stuck with me and my husband.”
While more than a dozen states have passed tougher gun laws since the Newtown shootings, Congress has not. That frustrates Hockley, who, among other things, lobbied for lower capacity magazine clips.
“There have been so many mass shooting and individual shootings. That is completely unacceptable. It's a public health epidemic,” she said. “It saddens to me to know that this still going on and that other parents are having to go through what I'm going through. And that another mass shooting is bound to happen.”
The Bardens took action after their other two children, James and Natalie, kept asking them questions about why and how such violence could occur.
"We didn't have any answer," Mark Barden said. “And James said, ‘I just hope this never happens to any other family ever again.’ We had the option to do nothing, or to do something. And then when you think of it like that, we didn't have any options.”
Lafferty, who began working with Mayors Against Illegal Guns last April, calls the organization her therapy. Before she began helping the group, she lacked purpose.
“Now I have something to fight for. I have something that gives me meaning back. And I need that. I need meaning. I need something to drive me because I don't have my mom's force, literally, in my ear every single day saying, "OK, kid, it's time to, you know, do this or try this,” she said.
Lafferty said what she misses about her mom varies upon the day.
“Well, today it would probably be how warm her hands always were. Yesterday probably would've been how tiny she always felt when I hugged her. On really sad days probably her contagious laugh,” she said.
Many families of the victims will observe the one-year mark of the Sandy Hook shooting out of town, even though most news outlets have agreed to respect the wishes of Newtown residents and stay away on the anniversary.
Lafferty suggested supporters wanting to note the day instead mark it with 26 acts of random kindness.
“Just be nice to each other, you know?” she said. “If everyone just did one nice thing for one person every single day, how much more good would there be? How much less bad?”
“It's hard to feel like we're healing or healed. I still feel like we're still trying to come to terms with that this really happened,” said Mark Barden. “I still find myself trying to will this all into a dream, trying to wish it was not real.”