Saturday, December 14, 2013

One Year Since Sandy Hook. How Has Newtown Changed?

It's been one year since the horrifying shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT.  

Words cannot express the sadness felt by the nation today.  In towns and cities across America, vigils are being held.  Moments of silence.  Memorials.  I hope you can join one.

The people of Newtown have chosen not to hold a memorial event, but rather to endorse a "year of service" and a candle in the window.  This, after "26 Days of Kindness" leading up to today.  It is a way to reflect without the crush of press, which can be so difficult to deal with on such an emotional day.  The community grieves.  Said Newtown resident and psychiatrist John Woodall:
So the work of grief is to find a new form for that love, to find a new expression for it, a new commitment, a way to honor the love. And so, again, we came back to this idea that a commitment to transform that anguish into a commitment to compassion and kindness, that’s where we wanted to keep the focus. And that’s something that goes beyond a day. It’s something that we want to be part of the culture of the town.”
They've started a special page, called My Sandy Hook Family, to commemorate the movement going forward.  There you can click on a name of one of the victims, to read about them.  From their "About" page:
This website is intended to serve as a singular place of sharing, communication, and contact with the families of those who lost their lives that day. allows us, the 26 families, the opportunity to honor our loved ones in a way that feels right to each individual family.
And there are links to the Sandy Hook Family Fund, to aid the families in their recovery, and the Sandy Ground Project, to build playgrounds in the name of the victims.

Statements have been made by politicians, like the Governor of Connecticut, and the White House, but statements won't change much.  Only actions can change our society.

More important are statements from the families of the victims, and other residents of Newtown.

From an NBC news article:
“It seemed like a very meaningful and elegant way to mark the year for us,” Terri Rousseau, 63, Lauren’s mother, said Wednesday.
Of the time since the shootings, she noted the journey had been difficult.
“I’m just grateful that we managed to weather it,” she said, at moments breaking down into tears. “We were very much debilitated by grief at some points, but we were still able to do our jobs and do some advocacy and spend time with friends and family, and that’s about the best you can hope for.”
Rousseau, like some other Newtown families, said she wouldn't be in the small Connecticut community on the anniversary of the shooting on Saturday. Town officials have asked media and outsiders to refrain from traveling there to give the townspeople privacy and avoid triggering traumatic memories of the nation’s second deadliest mass shooting.

Alissa Parker, mother to Emilie, has turned away from grief and come to a sense of peace with herself.  From an article by her:
Love, it is so simple and yet so powerful. Love connects us all with each other. Love is what forever connects Emilie to my heart. God has shown me how beautiful life truly is when you learn to forgive and feel true peace. It has not been an easy journey, but I have learned so much about being patient with myself. I don't have to hold on to anger and I don't have to hold on to pain. There have been times where I felt like I HAD to hold on to the dark things, like it was some responsibility I was supposed to carry. But Emilie's life was about color and joy, not about pain and suffering. Natalie has taught me to roll away from the things that irritate me and to reach out and hold the hand of my baby and smile instead.
Life has to go on.  Erica Lafferty, the daughter of slain Sandy Hook principal, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, reflects on her wedding day without her mother, a day that her mother had helped to plan.
"We had almost the entire wedding planned together and I did it exactly the way that she wanted it to be. I knew that day would have been perfect for her. It was perfect for me. It was perfect for my husband. And I knew she was with me."
The families share a connection in their grief and recovery.
“It’s a kind of club that no one wants to be a part of,” said Neil Heslin, whose 6-year-old son, Jesse Lewis, was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. “You don’t know them personally, but you do. You’ve got that connection.” 
Heslin finds comfort in talking about Jesse, but most of the time he knows the people listening can't truly empathize. That changes when he’s at a dinner organized by an advocacy group, or speaking at a press conference, or chatting with a survivor he’s just met. 
“You don’t go out intending to meet other members of the club, but you come into contact with them. It’s somewhat of a secure feeling, a comforting feeling, when you’re associating with these people. It’s not awkward at all when you’re together. You have the common ground of your loss.”
Some have turned toward action, advocating for stronger gun regulation to help prevent further tragedies.  For instance, the daughter of Mary Sherlach, the Sandy Hook school psychologist who gave her life trying to protect "her" school.  Maura Sherlach Schwartz is now a national spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America who recently advocated against arming teachers:
What I don't see — and I hope never to see — are teachers walking around with loaded weapons. After the shooting at Sandy Hook, I watched in shock as some argued that arming teachers and administrators would make us safer. 
I disagree wholeheartedly. The presence of guns in schools will always increase the risk of gun violence, whether through accidental or intentional use. As a teacher, it sickens me to think of my administration, my colleagues, even me, being pressured to carry guns. 
I find it hard to understand how many of the same people who want teachers like me to come to class armed have done so little to keep guns away from people who shouldn't have them. Even though more than 90% of Americans favor background checks on all gun purchases, Congress has failed to act on common-sense reforms that would save lives.
Another who has turned to action is Carlos Soto, the teenage son of Vicki Soto, one of the teachers who died in the shooting:
But the Newtown groups and families have continued to visit the Capitol in the months afterward to lobby for the legislation, though prospects for Congress to approve it in the near future are dim.
None of that dissuades Carlos Soto, the 16-year-old brother of slain Sandy Hook teacher, Vicki, whom he described as a second mom. The high school junior has traveled nine times to Washington, D.C., to push for gun control and works with several groups on that mission. He gives speeches on the issue, too.
“I want it (Sandy Hook) to be seen as … the turning point in gun reform because that’s what it truly is,” he said.
He said his family was honoring the legacy of his sister with their activism. But her death takes an ongoing toll, he said, noting how hard it would be to spend another Christmas without her.
“I don’t think anyone's ever OK after something like this,” he said. “We all just learn to live the new life that we live and learn to cope with what happened.”
Some of the parents, as part of Sandy Hook Promise, call for action:
Members of the campaign spoke with hundreds of other parents around the country–gun owners, non-gun owners, Democrats, Republicans, independents, and individuals from different faiths and economic backgrounds–during the past year to hear their opinions on gun control and to discuss possible solutions. 
They discovered that people want to take action in their communities to help prevent violence, and that unconditional love for their children transcends all other issues, Hockley said. .... 
“It’s not so much about waiting for Washington. People don’t want to wait to be told what to do,” Hockley said. “They want to be involved in the solutions themselves.”
Some have also launched a campaign to make schools safer, through a program called Safe and Sound, and Get Ready Get Safe, which hopes to help children survive disasters.

However they now define themselves or what they are doing, it's clear that, after the tragedy a year ago, Newtown will no longer be the community it was, and its residents were changed forever.

One Newtown resident and now-activist, Monte Frank, sums it up best when he says that "Newtown" is no longer just a place, but is now a movement:
While we cannot bring back our 20 children and 6 educators in Newtown, or the more than 30,000 other victims of gun violence, and we certainly cannot fathom the pain of all of the families, we can honor them with action. Before the vigil, the broad coalition of Americans descending on Washington will be working in shelters and delivering Ben's Bells made the day before at a boy's school in Washington. We are asking you to perform an act of kindness in your community. 
These are days Newtown should be proud of. Newtown has opened its doors to the entire nation and has given a voice to those who did not have one. Newtown has shown the world that from the darkest depths, humanity can rise above, and good can prevail over evil. We are Newtown. We are all Newtown. We choose love. LOVE. Get on the "bus" and join the Newtown movement. Honor with action.
My action will be to call for stronger gun regulation, such as universal background checks, better mental health screening, mandated safe storage of guns in homes with children, and other such commonsense regulation.  A moment of silence shows respect, but the best memorial for the loss of our loved ones to gun violence is to call for changes to keep guns out of the hands of those who would abuse them.  No more silence.  It's time for action!

Today, we are all Newtown.