A Sanctuary of Healing, Born of Tragedy

A Sanctuary of Healing, Born of Tragedy

The mother of a Sandy Hook victim has transformed her grief into a sanctuary of love.

Catherine Hubbard pets a goat in a pen.

Sunday morning, two days after the shooting, two days that felt like two eternities, I sat with my husband, Matt, on our living room couch in Newtown, Connecticut, staring at the blank document on my laptop, wondering where to start, how to start. How to find the words to write my little girl’s obituary.

Family and friends milled about. A coffee cake sat on the kitchen counter untouched, as if the thought of eating in the face of such tragedy was a kind of sacrilege.

It felt as if we were caught in a bank of fog trying to find our way to some sort of comprehension of what had happened in our peaceful New England village 75 miles north of New York City.

People need to know how much love went out of this world when she died, I finally thought. Just tell them. I willed my fingers to type.

“Catherine Violet Hubbard, age 6, born June 8, 2006, passed away Friday, December 14, 2012, during the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. She is survived by her older brother, Frederick....”

So unnatural for a parent to be writing about the loss of her child. It should be the other way around, shouldn’t it? Catherine should have been a mom herself telling the world what a good mom and grandma I had been, that I had lived long and well and died peacefully after a happy life.

And yet our sweet, loving, beautiful daughter was gone. What more was there to say? Her life was over almost before it had begun, but the void she left felt unfillable.

She could be shy around adults, like lots of little girls. With animals or other kids it was another story, especially with animals. She came alive with love, our own miniature flame-haired Dr. Doolittle. It was as if she couldn’t contain her need to care about every living thing.

How many hours did Catherine spend in the backyard with her friends patiently training our old yellow Lab mix to jump over a stick? Hugging her. Picking her up, though she weighed twice as much Catherine. She had a thing for critters—her pet bunny, her fish, the crickets in our yard on lazy summer nights, even the worms.

Butterflies were a big deal. She’d gasp with delight when one landed on her hand, which they always seemed to do. Maybe it was because she’d whisper to them, “Tell all your friends I’m kind.” Yes, kind. Catherine knew what she was and how precious kindness is in this world.

Not long ago she made her own business cards with Catherine’s Animal Shelter across the top. Care Taker, she wrote under her name. She handed them out to friends and to her first grade teacher at Sandy Hook. Matt and I smiled at her sense of purpose.

She was never without some kind of animal, usually one of her unbelievably huge collection of stuffed toys. She piled them around her on the bed at night. In the morning she always picked one to put in her backpack for school. As if she had to have something with her to care for, even a stuffed animal.

First grade, going to class all day, had been an adjustment. For her and for me. More me, probably. When she was in preschool and kindergarten I cherished having our afternoons together.

I rushed to get my chores and errands done so when she got home I could give her all my attention, make time for art projects, baking cookies and reading with her. Those hours were precious to me, and so much more precious now that God had called her home.

I didn’t know why Catherine died. The greatest comfort—the only comfort—was knowing she was in the safest place of all, in heaven, with no hate and no bullets, only love and life eternal.

I reread what I had written so far. How could all the beautiful things our daughter was even be expressed in words? I typed: “Her family prays that she, all the students of Sandy Hook Elementary, and all those affected by this brutal event find peace in their hearts.”

Peace, a word I had chanted silently to myself since Friday morning.

Matt looked over my shoulder at what I’d written. “Looks good,” he said.

“We need some kind of memorial,” I said. “People are going to want to send donations.”

Matt thought for a moment. “What about the animal shelter?” he said. What was it called? A friend did a quick search on her phone. “It’s called the Animal Center,” she said. “Here’s the address.”

I typed it into the form. “In lieu of flowers...” It wasn’t much, but for now it was all my heart could manage.

I e-mailed the obituary to the funeral home. We’d spent that Saturday meeting with our priest and the funeral director, planning the wake for Wednesday, the mass for Thursday morning. So many decisions. It was impossible to believe that it could all be actually happening.

I felt both raw and numb, like someone walking barefoot across burning-hot coals and not quite feeling the pain. Not yet, at least.

The casket. The cemetery plot. The music. The question of whether to open the mass and the wake to the public. We’d said yes. Scheduling a time for the services. Our church alone, St. Rose, was holding eight funerals. One choice was easy: we’d decided to bury Catherine with her stuffed animals. All of them.

That was the one thing I knew for certain she would have wanted. So you’ll have something to care for in heaven, my love.

Now with the arrangements done the hours were agonizing. Empty. Our house felt like a prison cell. We couldn’t leave without being escorted by a state trooper. One was assigned to every family.

We’d been told the village was swarming with media, that there were dozens of reporters camped out behind police barricades at the end of our block. I understood that the country and the world mourned with us, but still...

About Jennifer Hubbard

To learn more about the Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, visit their website and watch this video.

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