When she served as the nation’s first lady, Michelle Obama said she and her husband kept their roles strictly separate.
The one exception came the morning of Dec. 14, 2012, when a tragedy so devastating that the nation's commander-in-chief immediately sought his wife for emotional support. It was the massacre of 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
“This would be the only time in eight years that he’d request my presence in the middle of a workday, the two of us rearranging our schedules to be alone together for a moment of dim comfort," Obama recounted in an excerpt she released of her highly anticipated memoir, “Becoming.”
"Usually, work was work and home was home, but for us, as for many people, the tragedy in Newtown shattered every window and blew down every fence,” she wrote. “When I walked into the Oval Office, Barack and I embraced silently. There was nothing to say. No words.”
Obama said by the time she reached her husband, he had been briefed on every “graphic, horrid” detail of the scene. In addition to the children, all ages 6 and 7, the gunman also fatally shot the principal and five other adults at the school before taking his own life.
Obama said the tragedy struck the former president deeply. She described her husband as a doting father, someone who loved to hold babies and who regularly brought children into the Oval Office to show them around. He also volunteered as an assistant coach for their younger daughter's middle school basketball team.
“Staying upright after Newtown was probably the hardest thing he’d ever had to do. When Malia and Sasha came home from school later that day, Barack and I met them in the residence and hugged them tight, trying to mask the urgency of our need just to touch them,” the former first lady wrote.
“It was hard to know what to say or not say to our girls about the shooting. Parents all around the country, we knew, were grappling with the same thing.”
Obama described how she regularly found herself trying to provide comfort to others devastated by grief, including people who lost their homes to tornados and other natural disasters. She also tried to console the loved ones of individuals killed in military battles and other mass shootings, including the one inside a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
Yet, when her husband left two days after the Sandy Hook shooting to attend a prayer vigil in Newtown, Obama said she couldn't summon the will to join him.
“I was so shaken by it that I had no strength available to lend. I’d been First Lady for almost four years, and there had been too much killing already — too many senseless, preventable deaths and too little action,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what comfort I could ever give to someone whose six-year-old had been gunned down at school.”
In her memoir, one of the most highly anticipated political books in recent memory, Obama also spoke for the first time about her difficult journey to getting pregnant. She shares how she suffered a miscarriage more than 20 years ago and that she eventually conceived her two daughters through in vitro fertilization.
Her older daughter, Malia, is now 20 and a student at Harvard. Her younger daughter, Sasha, is a 17-year-old senior finishing up high school in Washington, D.C.