How I went beyond my anger and sadness at my son’s death

After losing her 6-year-old son Jesse in the Sandy Hook shooting, Scarlett Lewis set up a foundation in his name.

Courtesy of Scarlett Lewis / Jesse Lewis Choosing Love Movement

Losing a child is one of the most painful experiences a parent can imagine. For mother of two Scarlett Lewis, life would never be the same after her 6-year-old son Jesse died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, one of the deadliest mass shootings in American history. Young Jesse used his last moments to save nine of his friends.

Inspired by Jesse’s courage that day in addition to the message of love he left, Scarlett started a foundation in his name: the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. She is also the author of the book Nurturing Healing Love: A Mother’s Journey of Hope and Forgiveness.

Here, in her own words, is the story of how she learned to move through pain and anger and find love, compassion and forgiveness to honor Jesse’s legacy.

When tragedy strikes

When I woke up on December 14, 2012, I was a woman who loved being a single mom to my two boys. We had a wonderful life on our small farm in Sandy Hook, Connecticut.

I worked full time and struggled with finances and scheduling but loved my life and wouldn’t have changed much if I could. On that day I woke up like any other, my boys went to school and I commuted to work.

Hours later, I received the unbelievable news that my 6-year-old son had been shot and killed in his first grade class by a former student, along with 19 of his classmates and six educators in one of the worst mass murders in American history.

I was the head of my household. I had my 12 year old son by my side and heard the news with me. I knew I had to model for him how to go through the tragedy with courage and strength. (Learn what makes someone brave.)

Courage in the face of danger

Speaking of bravery, my 6-year-old son took on the gunman who entered his class and helped save nine of his classmate’s lives before losing his own. I was still stunned when I heard that news, but I made up my mind then and there to follow his example. I decided that I would not be another victim of the tragedy, but would learn and grow from it, both for myself and for my surviving son.

I had anger, I was robbed, but most of the time it came in waves of sadness. I watched as the world turned blame and anger on the shooter and his mother, but it didn’t make sense to me. If it was all their fault, it would never have happened before – but it did, many times, and now on a regular basis.

In addition, in the subsequent police investigation, we found that the perpetrator may have been mistreated. I felt compassion for him and even understood itread how he was treatedhis anger.

Nurturing Healing Love

I saw others trapped in anger that manifested as anxiety, depression, and even paranoia. I didn’t want to go down that road. My son wrote a message on our kitchen board shortly before he died, “Norturing Helinn Love”.

I did some research and found those three words in the definition of compassion in all cultures. As I laid out the meaning of each of the words, I found that they represented a powerful formula that I used to get through my pain and anger. This has allowed me to take back my personal power and even learn and grow through my experience. (Here are some grief quotes that can help you heal after a loss.)

The formula starts with courage. Most people think of extraordinary courage, like Jesse’s, but we practice courage every day. For example, when we are nice to someone who is not nice to us, when we do the right thing, and face our fear and discomfort instead of resisting and avoiding it.

Finding Gratitude Despite Tragedy

Nurturing means loving kindness and gratitude. I found things to be thankful for even in those first few days. I was grateful for my family, for my surviving son, and for those who came from all over to help us navigate the tragedy.

Healing means forgiveness and this has been a big part of my ability to overcome anger and resentment. I’ve learned that forgiveness isn’t a gift you give to someone else who doesn’t deserve it, it’s a gift you give to yourself—of freedom from the person who hurt you. Love is compassion in action and having the courage to step out of your pain and suffering to help others.

I chose to focus on the root cause of the tragedy: the same pain and suffering that leads to so much of the despair we see in the world today, including drug abuse, suicide, and loneliness.

Taking back personal power through love

This powerful formula – Courage + Gratitude + Forgiveness + Compassion in Action = Choosing Love – is now taught by the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Movement. This is in more than 10,000 schools, homes and communities, in every state and in more than 110 countries. It has been spread by word of mouth because it works in every situation, even the most difficult. I’ve talked to preschoolers, CEOs and prisons for the past eight years.

All listeners say they feel anxious, even angry, when they have no control over a situation or circumstance. We don’t always have control over what happens to us in life, but we can always choose how we react thoughtfully. When we choose love, we take back our personal power.

This resonates with the people around us and helps through the ripple effect to create a safer, more peaceful and more loving world.

—As told to Nadine Jolie Courtney

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