Emilie's Light
Guideposts|December /January 2021
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary eight years ago was one of the saddest events we have ever covered. Yet as her story from 2017 shows, this mother of a young victim found hope and healing
ALISSA PARKER Vancouver, Washington

OUR FAMILY LOVED EASTER.We loved the beautiful church service, the pretty new dresses for our girls. I always woke up excited to celebrate God’s promise of new life.

This year, I woke up with a knot in my stomach.

It had been three months since I’d watched Emilie, my six-year-old daughter, board the yellow school bus that would take her to first grade at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Three months since my phone had rung with a message that there’d been a school shooting in Newtown.

Three months since an ashen-faced governor of Connecticut had walked into a classroom crowded with terrified parents and told us our worst fears had come true.

Emilie had been a shining light in our family—a precociously empathetic child, keenly aware of other people’s feelings. She’d doted on her younger sisters, Madeline and Samantha. She would draw pictures for me and my husband, Robbie, always with sweet messages, especially when we needed cheering up. The first word she’d ever said was “happy.”

She was murdered by a troubled young man who had walked into her school and fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff with two semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle before taking his own life.

And now it was Easter, one of Emilie’s favorite holidays. I didn’t know how I would make it through the day. Much less heal from the grief that still consumed me.

The three months since Emilie died had tested my heart, mind, soul and marriage. Robbie and I had struggled with anger and overwhelming loss. Working with a counselor, we had managed to remain emotional anchors for each other. We had done our best to keep life going for Madeline and Samantha. Our family had not fallen apart.

Yet the void that Emilie left behind remained. It was as much an abyss as a void for me.

I knew Emilie was with God. I knew she was safe in her Heavenly Father’s arms. But those were words in my head. In my heart was a void, as if Emilie had simply vanished from existence. Churning around the edges of that void, that abyss, was pure loathing for her killer.

I hated that loathing, and I hated that void. I felt helpless about both.

For three months, I prayed for those feelings to be healed. God had given me various answers to those prayers. But I didn’t understand any of them. And the answers didn’t make the feelings go away.

The first answer—and I admit, this made me jealous—came not to me but to Robbie.

Less than a month after Emilie died, Robbie emerged from tucking in her little sisters one night with a look of awe on his face.

“You’ll never guess the conversation I just had with Madeline,” he said. He told me that Madeline had asked if we’d ever see Emilie again.

“Where do you think she is?” Robbie said.

“Heaven,” said Madeline.

“That’s right,” Robbie said. “So the best way to see her again is to love God and make good choices.”

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