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A mother's voice: Remembering Emilie a year after Sandy Hook

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 10 2013 12:05 a.m. MST

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Alissa Parker remembers clearly what turned out to be her last conversation with her oldest daughter, Emilie, 6. They were in the little girl’s bedroom, looking at the flowers painted on the walls. Emilie pointed to a pink flower with a black center and a black flower with a pink center. She was excited.

“Mom, we need to talk about what I learned. Don’t you see? It’s a connection. Connections are everywhere; everything is connected.”

There’s a smile in Alissa Parker’s voice as she tells the story, because she’s been living the power of unexpected connections in the year since Emilie died. The girl was one of 20 children and six adults killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Dec. 14.

The concept that so tickled Emilie has become a running theme in her mother's life. The year brought unimaginable grief but also personal growth and moments of joy Parker had trouble picturing she'd ever feel again. She is now connected to so many people she never would have known, so many projects that make up her child’s legacy. Even the connections in her personal beliefs and close relationships are stronger, she told the Deseret News.

Parker describes herself as more self-aware. She’s given herself permission to shut off the negative. “I understand my limits. I understand my triggers and I understand what’s good for me. I have the choice to allow myself to be around those things or not.”

That means she often avoids news or conversations that will rile her. She describes that choice as “a powerful tool in my grieving. That has allowed me the peaceful moments and time to let it go so it can be quiet and it can be sweet. I look at myself and I look at (husband) Robbie and I am amazed at how much peace that brings me.”

She has learned to slow down and breathe. She tries to be "truly present in important moments, though it’s not always possible." Mostly, she lets herself “take the time to be with my children and really see my children,” speaking of daughters Madeline, who’s now almost 6, and Samantha, close to 4. “It’s almost as if you take out the noise and you can see the color. That’s the most inspiring thing about Emilie’s life and the way it impacted me. She made me see past that noise.”

Paying attention to goodness

Alissa Parker has been learning this year about both her relationship with God and with Emilie. “I am understanding the principle that she’s away, but she’ll never be gone.” Parker grew up believing there is a life beyond this one; she is now certain of it, she says. “Emilie's a presence we feel often and she feels very much still part of our family. What a blessing to have that surety and knowledge.”

Evil is often readily visible, Parker notes. Goodness may be more subtle. One must pay attention. “What I’ve been able to see is beyond words. I have read thousands and thousands of emails and letters and people expressing to me the way they were touched by the life she led — by my daughter — that testified to me how God’s love changed their life.”

While she refuses to feed the sensationalism that often surrounds tales of Sandy Hook — “I kind of shut down when people want to talk about the bad,” she says — she loves sharing the beauty of Emilie and her goodness, which remains. “I have been in a unique position where I feel like I’ve witnessed a miracle of God’s hand in many, many people’s lives.”

Remembering Emilie

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