Working Toward Forgiveness in the Aftermath of Sandy Hook

Though she lost her six-year-old daughter Emilie in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Alissa Parker has found healing and even forgiveness through faith and prayer. Listen as she shares her story.

Read Alissa's inspiring cover story from the December 2017 issue of Guideposts!

Hi Guideposts; I'm Alissa Parker. My six-year-old daughter Emilie was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I'm here to share with you her story and my journey to find forgiveness.

I've always been a person of faith and I was taught at a very early age that forgiveness is expected of all men. I remember after Emilie died and I thought about my feelings toward the shooter, the idea of forgiveness was the furthest thing from my mind. And it wasn't until a series of events led us to meet with the actual shooter's father, and in speaking with him, it was the first time that I had to look at him in a different way. Not the monster that I saw, but through God's eyes, through a father's eyes. It was the beginning, it was the seed that planted the idea that forgiveness might be possible for me, and it led me on the most incredible journey.

I'm often asked what advice I would give someone who has lost a child or a loved one, and my answer is always the same: Have patience with yourself. Be understanding with the limitations that you have, because it is debilitating in the beginning, and you can't do the same things that you used to and that's OK, and to learn to accept those limitations. It just takes time and it takes work, and I remember for me that was a hard lesson to take, but really, it ended up being such a beautiful, wonderful thing to learn about being present and taking things slow.

Prayer was a very essential thing in my home after Emilie died. We would say our family prayers together, we would say prayers at night as a couple. I would say my own prayers. And it really was about building a relationship with God—a Father-and-daughter relationship—where I could go to Him and I could tell Him the things that I was struggling with and the things that I needed.

I knew that He had promised me that whatever I needed would be taken care of and that I would receive it if I had faith, and so I really relied on that and built that relationship.

When people think of my daughter, I want them to remember the vibrant life that she had in those six short years. She was full of color; she saw the world through the eyes of an artist, and it was beautiful to see all the drawings that she had. After she died, it felt like reading a journal of the way that she saw everything that happened to our lives, and those are the things that I remember most about her and my family.

So when people think about her and the tragedy at Sandy Hook, those are the things that I want her remembered for, not for someone else's choices.

After Emilie died, it was really gut-wrenching this void, this coldness. I felt this emptiness, missing her so much, and there was this drive inside of me to find her again, to feel close to her. I've heard so many other people had these amazing experiences where they could feel their loved ones near, and I wanted it so bad. And it was months later, after she passed away, that first experience that I had. And it was so simple, yet incredibly powerful.

I remember it was Easter morning, and the girls—my other daughters—had just opened up their Easter baskets and they had their new baskets on and they were twirling in our living room, dancing to some music. And I remember watching them and this powerful feeling just filled my heart and it was euphoric, it was indescribable, and I don't know how to express the joy that I felt, knowing that what I was feeling was my daughter and that she was still there with and she was there with her sisters. And it just felt like our family was still the five of us, the five that were there before, and it was such a beautiful thing to understand how close we still can be, even though she's gone.

I decided to name my book An Unseen Angel because this journey has taught me to realize that we are not alone, that those angels are always there with us, seen or unseen, and how incredibly beautiful it is to realize that God loves us this much. And so when I decided to share my story and to share these amazing experiences that I had with my daughter, my goal really was to tell people the other side to this tragedy that took my daughter's life.

It was so incredibly painful to read letters from people who were impacted by the tragedy at Sandy Hook and I wanted to show them that there was some light, that there was some goodness that came out of this, that God was stronger and powerful and all-knowing. And so that was why I shared my story with people, and I hope that that is what they take away from my daughter's story.

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