‘The Holidays Have Never Been the Same’: One Dad on Life After Sandy Hook

Mike Barden

Mark Barden writes about losing his son Daniel seven years ago, and why he is fighting against gun violence

December 14 marks seven years since 20 children and six educators were fatally shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Mark Barden’s son Daniel, 7, was among those killed. In remembrance, Mark (co-founder of Sandy Hook Promise) writes about losing his son right before the holidays, and why he has dedicated his life to try to save so many others. Read his words below.

Seven years ago, my family was gearing up for the much-anticipated holidays. It was a joyous time in our household. The Christmas tree was trimmed, and we were counting down the days until Santa arrived to deliver presents.

But on December 14, 2012, our lives were changed forever when my youngest of three beautiful children, my sweet little Daniel, was killed in his first-grade classroom along with 19 of his peers and six educators. The joyfulness we felt in our household and community swiftly turned to unimaginable grief.

The holidays have never been the same. I remember he used to run out onto the driveway, sometimes barefoot on the cold pavement, to give his cousins a big hug when they would arrive for the celebration. He loved his family more than anything.


Daniel Barden at Christmas

This time of year is now coupled with deep reflection and remembrance. A time where my son will forever be seven years old. Over and over again, I have to reacquaint myself with the horrible reality that he is never coming back. It leaves me breathless.

The only way I can push through the agony of getting out of bed in the mornings and remembering that Daniel isn’t here is by knowing that, every day we’re apart, I’m doing all I can to honor him.

In the days that followed the tragedy, I made a promise to my little boy and those lost that day that I would devote my own life to preventing gun violence. I also promised my beloved town that I would do everything in my power to make sure Sandy Hook is remembered not as the town filled with grief and victims, but as a place where real change began.

So many people tell me how helpless and hopeless they feel, especially with the uptick in gun violence we see in our schools across our country and the lack of action on the federal level to address it. However, there are proven preventative measures that can help curb this epidemic.

One of the reasons I co-founded Sandy Hook Promise is to create a culture that is engaged in preventing shootings, violence, and other harmful acts in schools. Research shows — including a recent study of school shootings — that school shooters demonstrate warning signs prior to their attack. This means that gun violence is preventable.

I urge all parents, students, and educators to learn the warning signs of potential violence, like being socially isolated, having a significant personality change, extreme prolonged sadness or depression, or patterns of aggressive behavior. You can download the full list here.

Daniel Barden on a school bus.

While one sign on its own does not mean a person is planning to harm themselves or others, many signs over time can point to an increased risk. Knowing what the signs are and when/how to speak up after seeing them on social media or in-person in a stranger, friend, or family member is essential to gun violence prevention. If someone had spoken up about the signs that the individual who shot Daniel was exhibiting, my sweet little boy would still be here with us.

Beyond knowing the signs and intervening, another way to honor the lives lost to shootings is to call your elected officials and encourage them to support policy that helps reduce gun violence. Legislation like Universal Background Checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs, also known as “Red Flag Laws”), are common-sense solutions to keeping guns out of the wrong hands.

The holidays will never be the same for me and my family. My heart breaks all over again with every remembrance. It never gets easier. We’ve spent seven years wondering what he might look like now, what new hobbies he might have. Seven years writing down memories, so we won’t forget the tiniest detail about them. Seven years replaying in our heads the last time we saw him alive on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012.

We would do anything to turn back time and have our little Daniel back in our arms. We can’t change what happened, but we can work to change what happens to other families, to prevent future tragedies.

Gun violence is not inevitable. It is preventable. I hope you’ll learn the warning signs, advocate for gun safety, and join me in making the Sandy Hook “Promise” to do all you can to protect children from gun violence.

Mark Barden is the co-founder and managing director of Sandy Hook Promise. Donate to help the non-profit fight gun violence here.

This originally appeared on Medium.com