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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 Bacons' 6-year-old granddaughter, Charlotte, reveled in playing with their dog, Ollie. "She never met an animal she didn't love," says Dan. — Dan Winters

Lindie & Dan Bacon
Newtown, Conn.
Grandparents of Charlotte Bacon, age 6

"Charlotte was a bright light in our lives, a pure joy," says Dan, 74. "She had a very independent streak: In life and in coloring, she just took the lines as suggestions, not rules. She had a vivid imagination; when she told you something, you didn't know what was fact and what was fiction. She adored pink and never met an animal she didn't love. She'd wanted to be a veterinarian since she was 2.

"Charlotte was also used to having things come easily to her, so she was surprised when she had to apply herself to learn to read. But her mom turned their yellow Lab, Lily, into a therapy dog. Charlotte would read aloud to Lily, and that didn't seem like a chore to her. There's no stigma in reading to a dog.

"Traumatized communities like ours can really benefit from therapy dogs. And this is something JoAnn, our daughter-in-law, wants to do in Charlotte's memory, so that something good comes out of something so tragic. Just like Newtown Kindness, which was started by Charlotte's best friend, Ava Carlson, and her father, Aaron. Ava, now 7, was devastated by Charlotte's death. She asked, 'What can we do to make things better?' We chose to focus on kindness: Kind kids grow up to be kind adults. It's a project where kids describe their acts of kindness, and we expected it to be a little local contest. But we've received thousands of entries from kids around the country, even abroad. The acts of kindness these kids are doing are amazing."

"Life has changed for our children, their children and us," says Lindie, 71. "Now we make sure we spend time with our kids. We often pick up Guy, Charlotte's brother, from the school bus, and he sleeps over. As the plaque in our kitchen reads, 'Faith, Family, Friends.' We thank God we have that. Our close-knit family is a big part of our healing.

"We also discovered there are a lot of well-intentioned people supporting us. Our family received some 4,000 cards and letters, and are trying to respond to all of them. Lots of people sent gifts: angel jewelry, photos of children, knitted and crocheted prayer shawls. This mountain of mail has been very meaningful.

"There are days when we'd like to be anywhere but Newtown," Lindie continues. "People don't want to be known as being from here now. Sandy Hook and Newtown are synonymous with tragedy. We no longer have to explain where we are from. The moment we say the name, everybody knows. But we haven't thought of moving away. Now we know why God wanted us to be here."

"My wife and I worked as missionaries in Asia for many years," says Dan. "And we have lots of friends all over the world. When Charlotte died, we had to stop them from jumping on a plane — though many of them did.

"As former missionaries, we're often asked, 'Why did a loving God let this happen?' Our response is always: 'God didn't orchestrate this. It breaks God's heart. This is not what he would choose.' "

Jan Goodwin is author of Price of Honor: Muslim Women Lift the Veil of Silence on the Islamic World (Plume Publishing, 2003).

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