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What are you doing this year for the anniversary?  Where will you be?  Is “anniversary” even the right word? These questions begin to rise up like bubbles with increasing frequency as we approach December 14th on the calendar, the day our children were killed alongside their classmates and teachers in the tragedy at Sandy Hook School.

We do our best to steel ourselves, think creatively, and plan mindfully; but as we draw near each year there’s just no getting around it.  This date looms heavy on the horizon and waits like an immovable boulder in the middle of the road.

My dear friend JoAnn whose beautiful daughter, Charlotte was killed in the tragedy recently wrote with bare honesty about her season of grief each year.  I was relieved to read that I am not the only one who finds herself – well, not herself, in the months surrounding this date.  Just a month ago, I found myself completely tongue-tied at one point in a talk I must have given a thousand times.  I wondered if something was wrong with my brain, if I should see a doctor.  I had been feeling fuzzy, exhausted, and more forgetful lately.

An honest conversation with another mother of loss revealed the truth.  I had been busy busying myself as I often do, hoping to escape what I cannot.

“It’s just a date on the calendar,” I tell myself.  We miss our children, their classmates, and teachers every day.  We miss the lives we had. We’ll never forget.  So why the need–or the expectation– for remembrance rituals?

My family celebrates Josephine’s birthday only a few days before the “anniversary” date. However bittersweet, it’s a gift to us, to many that loved her, and many that have come to know her after her death.  Old friends and family members reach out with posts and texts, and new friends & neighbors, families of loss, first responders, and supporters with kind nods and gestures too, many wearing purple. How Joey loved her purple.

Our Newtown neighbors, stalwart support for us that day and in the aftermath, still decorate the street with purple balloons every year on her birthday.  Our former babysitter releases balloons as we did together in our backyard seven years ago.  Last year our new neighbors lit their lampposts with purple bulbs in beautifully simple solidarity. Rituals.

As I write, I realize the answer to my own question about why we feel compelled to mark these days. My faith teaches me that my daughter is safe and happy, growing up in heaven.  I find immeasurable peace in this knowledge.  But here on earth, we “do something” together to support each other. We’re not made to do this alone.

While every day is a day of remembrance for us, this year our families will remember the lives of our daughters, Josephine and Emilie, with laughter and tears, shared stories, treasured memories, and our own forms of remembrance.

This year I find myself looking at December 14th as a day to remember others–those that supported us that day, and in the following weeks, months, and years. Every prayer, every note, every kindness sent to help us heal. We remember.

Last week I was decorating for the holidays late one night and caught a glimpse of purple outside.  I looked out the window to see the street lined with purple lamp lights once more…and it took my breath away.

I got the message.  We remember.

Thank you.

Michele Gay is Co-founder & Executive Director of Safe and Sound Schools.  A former teacher turned school safety advocate, following the loss of her daughter in the Sandy Hook School tragedy, Michele speaks and travels to communities across the country on a mission: every school safe and sound.

Almost two years have passed now since the morning I packed up my three daughters and sent them off for another day of school in Newtown, Connecticut. Only two were returned to me at the end of that day, December 14, 2012. My youngest daughter, Josephine, was killed in her first grade classroom only moments after I dropped her off at the front door and into the loving arms of one of her teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Since the long, desperate hours we spent that day, waiting to receive the words that would forever change our lives, we’ve learned that she has never really left us. As a family of deep faith—and with the support of family, friends, and others near and far—we have discovered in many ways, how our daughter lives on in this world.

She has called us—all of us—to do better by our children. We cannot take back the choices of the man who attacked and killed Joey, and 25 of her beloved friends and teachers at school that day. Nor can we take back the mistakes and blatant inactions of so many that allowed his profound mental illness to fester to the point of such unprecedented tragedy. But we can, at least, do better by our surviving children and our school communities.

To do better, I joined Alissa Parker, Emilie’s mom, to work for safer schools in America. We founded Safe and Sound in honor of our little girls, dear friends. We dedicated our foundation to educating and empowering school communities, parents, students, teachers, administrators, emergency responders, and mental health professionals to make our schools safer—together.

Safe and Sound is a hub of free school safety resources designed to help guide communities across the country as they too look to “do better” for the precious people who come to grow, learn, and teach in school every day. With a panel of national school safety professionals, we develop and collect best-practice materials and resources. We travel the country visiting, speaking, and teaching in school communities and for professional organizations about school safety.

And in this work we’ve learned a great deal. Though, perhaps nothing more important than this fact: Weparents, educators, leaders, and community membersare not powerless in keeping our children safe in school.

We invite you to join us in honor of the precious children in your life. Visit us often to find a growing wealth of information and experience to help you work for safer schools in your community. Check out our free, printable toolkits, designed to facilitate initiatives in your own school community. Support our mission for safer schools. It’s time to get to work together for safer schools today.