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AARP The Magazine

Sandy Hook Grandparents Share Stories

Their journey since the tragedy last year has been through unparalleled pain and numbing grief into a struggle to move on

The Grandparents of Newtown (Dan Winters)

The Morettis read to their grandson Dylan a week before he was killed. His favorite part? " 'The sharks.' I can still hear him say that," says Terry, left. — Dan Winters

Terry & Henry Moretti
Cranston, R.I.
Grandparents of Dylan Hockley, age 6

"I'd been out doing some Christmas shopping, mostly presents for our grandkids," says Terry, 66. "When I came home, there was a garbled phone message from our daughter, Nicole. I knew something was wrong and assumed something had happened with the school bus. I called her immediately. 'Mommy, there was a shooting at the Sandy Hook school,' she told me. 'You have to be kidding,' I said. 'It only goes to the fourth grade.' She couldn't really talk. She just said, 'Jake' — our older grandchild — 'is OK, but we are still waiting to hear about Dylan.'

"We turned on the television, and the story was all over the news. Our son-in-law, Ian, called at about 1:30. They still hadn't heard anything about Dylan. We were all hoping that maybe he ran into the woods when he heard gunshots. 'It's been a lot of hours,' I told my husband. 'I'm not feeling good about this.' At 3:30 p.m., Ian called again. All he could say was, 'Dylan is dead.' I couldn't speak. He couldn't speak. I know I talked to my daughter after that, but I don't recall what we said.

"Dylan was autistic but very high functioning. He had a special education aide, Anne Marie Murphy, age 52, who adored him, and he adored her. When the shooting started, she threw her body over Dylan's to protect him. Her arms were wrapped around him when they found them. It was an enormous comfort to us that Dylan was with someone who loved him, and he loved back, in those final seconds. Mrs. Murphy had children of her own. I never met her, but I pray for her every night.

"Our grandson was absolutely the sweetest boy you'd ever want to meet. Every night, Nicole and Ian read the kids to sleep. When I was with them, I would do the same, and tuck them in. I visited them a week before Dylan was killed. We were reading Going to the Sea Park by Mercer Mayer. Before Dylan went to sleep, I asked him what the best part of the story was. 'The sharks,' he replied. I can still see him and hear him say that. When I went back to the house after the shootings, that book was still on his bed. Now every night I read it to Dylan. I think he hears me. I will read it every day until I see him again.

"It's hard to cope with your own pain when your child is so shattered. My daughter is my flesh and blood, but there is nothing I can say that can help her feel better. The first year is the worst — the birthdays, the holidays. Dylan's birthday was last March; he would have been 7. Now he'll be forever 6.

"I don't think any of us will get over this. When my daughter visits us now, I hear only three car doors open instead of four. When they leave, I have a good hard cry. I still have the pictures Dylan drew for me. And the letter he wrote to me from school is on the fridge. 'Dear grandma, will you play with me, love Dylan.' He loved the trampoline in the yard. He'd push back against the net and say, 'Push me, Grandma, push me.' Being autistic, he liked repetitive things. I would push him until I thought my arms would fall off. He'd laugh and laugh.

"One of the things that's really helped is advice my daughter got from Vice President Joe Biden, who lost his wife and infant daughter in a car accident in 1972. When Biden met Nicole after the shooting, he told her to rate each day from 1 to 10 — and you may never get to 10. He said, 'Nicole, if you make it to a 4 one day, at least you know you made it to a 4. And then you know you can do it again.'

"I've adopted that approach into my life since Dylan died. I rate every day. So far I've had one day that was a 5. I got there, so I think I can do it again. It helps."

Next page: Annette & Carmen Lobis. »

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