My brother calls it "the lost week."
It was late in the year but the first days of 2012, A.L. -- after Lauren -- when our family was ripped from our ordinary lives and thrown into a previously unimaginable reality.
It started as the week I always take off from work before Christmas, a huge holiday in our immediate family. I was very behind with the preparations, but the afternoon of Dec. 13 there was just enough time in the falling darkness to pick out a tree at the nursery.
It was a nearly 10-foot tree, as we always chose, so the angel on top would just clear the living room ceiling. The size of the tree was very important to my oldest child and only daughter. It was what she'd known every Christmas of her life in our hundred-plus-year-old house, and she put a great deal of importance on family traditions.
That evening was a rarity, with neither of us at our jobs. I was washing dishes in the sink and she came to dry them, reminding me of thousands of scenes with my sisters and I doing the same while growing up.
We talked about a longtime friend she'd become estranged from, and I urged Lauren to reach out to her again. I said I thought as we mature we should continuously improve ourselves and try to do the right thing. Lauren was quite dedicated to doing the right thing.
She fell asleep on the living room sofa while watching TV. We usually watched "Project Runway" together, and right before I said good night to her later in her room she said she hadn't seen who was chosen the winner.
"We have it on Tivo," I assured her. "You can find out anytime."
How ironic that would prove to be.
The next morning she didn't tiptoe into my room to ask if her scarf looked all right or if I could help her with her bracelet clasp, as she so often did. She had a very special evening planned, and she hurried off to start the day.
I was awakened by my partner, Hartford Courant reporter Bill Leukhardt, rustling to get ready for work. His editors had called several times about a shooting in Newtown, he whispered. Since he lives closer than his coworkers, they asked him to check it out.
Probably a domestic incident, he said, adding I should go back to sleep. He'd be back or call me soon.
He remembers we exchanged five phone calls before he was told -- before the extent of the tragedy was known -- not to stay at Sandy Hook Elementary School because of his personal connection. I remember none of the calls. The lost week had begun.
I began watching the TV news about 11:30 a.m., when three victims of a gunman were reported. Two were children, so I figured the odds were Lauren was OK. My heart sank when the 1 p.m. news flash said 21 victims. Read Full Article
Still, I held out stupid hope for many of the next 12 hours, after which we got the confirmation of her death. My brother and his wife had already arrived from a three-and-a-half-hour drive I originally thought was an overreaction.
The lost week kicked into gear. My relatives flew in from three states and drove in from several others. They would be in town for days, and everyone needed to eat and be kept in the loop.
Big boxes of food arrived from our friends and employers, but getting it served to the crowd was a logistical problem. I remember worrying a lot about that. And Christmas? What to do about Christmas, the hap-, happiest time of the year?
I have heartbreaking photos of stunned relatives visiting the memorials at the firehouse and the center of Sandy Hook.
Family members met to discuss details of the Lauren's Dec. 20 memorial service, but there wasn't time to finesse the plans the way I would have liked. Hundreds of people were turned away from the church for lack of space.
Everything seemed so confusing, so compromised, so incomprehensible.
I remember being hugged by the president of the United States and the governor of Connecticut and being interviewed by TV people from here and abroad, but mostly I remember that nightmare time as one in which our happy past was a blur and our future a troubling fog.
It's a year later and we are thankful to have survived that week and the intermittent lost weeks that followed. As Bill says, "Every day is Dec. 14 at our house."
Like other Sandy Hook victims' families, we decided to spend part of this week and next week far from home so we would not have dwell on the details of last Dec. 14 where they unfolded. We will be in a remote place literally, and who-knows-where emotionally.
My younger sister, Lauren's godmother, devised her own coping strategy for the day, a project she calls 26 Acts of Purple, after Lauren's signature color. For weeks she crocheted ribbon scarves as fast as she could so she'd have 26 to give to Lauren's loved ones. She eventually made more than 50.
Her idea is for us to wear them on the 14th, a way to bond in honoring Lauren wherever we are.
All of our family wore purple at Lauren's memorial service, and we were joined in that act by people all over the country.
Students in the Virginia school district where Lauren's cousin is a counselor followed that symbolic support with a 26 Acts of Kindness effort, which flooded their community -- in one month -- with 26 kindnesses times 4,000 students. What a mighty tribute to our petite teacher and barista!
The outpouring of concern and sympathy from people who only knew us from the news was the saving grace of 2013 A.L. We cannot begin to tell the hundreds of strangers who sent letters, cards, handcrafts, artwork and other gifts how touched we are by their caring.
I wear my cheery public face most of the time, but sometimes when I hear "I think of you all the time," "I pray for Lauren every day," or "I have her photo on my desk so I can see it," I want to weep with gratitude as well as sadness.
An amazing number of people were touched by her warmth, her sparkle, her thoughtfulness, her determination, her enthusiasm, her competence, her common sense, her constant smile and her silly side.
Grief is a strange companion. It sneaks up and smacks or trips you when you least expect it. It holds you hostage; you are at its mercy. But it isn't only the property of the Sandy Hook victim's families. It's required of multitudes of people every day.
The lost loved one, the foreclosed home, the cancer diagnosis, the unraveled marriage, the longtime career that's gone. This sadness surrounds us all. In the past year I've experienced how one's own grief is lessened by recognizing other people who are hurting and reaching out to help them.
At Christmas and all year long, do the right thing, be unreasonably generous, cherish your family, choose love, chase joy, don't hold grudges, ignore life's little irritations.
These are things I taught my precious daughter and her brothers, Matthew and Andrew, and advice I leave with you, as well as words that came to me last Dec. 14 and became my mantra: Memories are for comfort, not for pain.
Teresa Bomgardner Rousseau is a copy editor at The News-Times in Danbury, Conn. Her daughter, Lauren Rousseau, 30, was among those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Lauren had recently been hired as a full-time substitute teacher.
An essay by a local writer has run every day this week.