Sandy Hook victim Jesse McCord Lewis didn’t run away from his adversary Adam Lanza, he ran towards him. “Jesse died running toward the shooter, apparently trying to lead his classmates to safety,” said Jesse’s mother Scarlett Lewis in a Jan. 6, 2013, Stamford Advocate report.
“Jesse was given a commander-in-chief’s funeral for his actions, an honor usually reserved for heads of state and soldiers who have fallen in the act of valor. … We were in the limo following the hearse, and there were two motorcycles on each side of us with their sirens on. And there were 10 police cars in front of us and 10 behind.”
While reading Scarlett Lewis’ story about the Connecticut school shooting and how one Sandy Hook mother lives on after her son’s death, it becomes clear where 6-year-old Jesse McCord Lewis got his bravery from. Like mother, so son.
Sandy Hook mother Scarlett Lewis’ story is worth being told and retold again because it might help other mothers and fathers whose child is taken away from them far too early. Grief can be a destructive force.In the Stamford Advocate report, Scarlett Lewis says, “The grief, just like the tears, seems to come in waves.”
The story of how 44-year-old Scarlett Lewis, who is an executive assistant for a telecommunications company in Orange, lives on after her son’s death is not only a helpful account of how to deal with death but it is also a helpful reminder of how to deal with life.
Sandy Hook mother Scarlett Lewis remembers all too well Dec. 14, 2012, the day of the Connecticut school shooting when she received a text message from a friend that something had happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Scarlett Lewis, like Jesse’s father, Neil Heslin, left her job and rushed to Sandy Hook. “I got there from work right about the time all the kids came out to their parents. … I’m running around searching and somebody said, ‘Oh, I think they took Jesse to the house next door with six other kids.’ So I ran to the house next door, but he wasn’t there. Neil and I were texting the whole time. And then somebody else said, ‘They took him to the Children’s Adventure Center,’ which is on the other side of the school. So we were both running all over the place. Finally, we were just sitting there at the firehouse. They couldn’t tell us anything and you could see people just falling to the ground and crying. … All the other kids had gone home with their parents. Suddenly, this slow realization was coming over us. We already knew the truth. But you held onto hope because you still had it.”
How does a mother or a father live on when all hope is gone and the death of your child has become a reality and a part of every moment in your life?
For Sandy Hook mother Scarlett Lewis, living on after the Connecticut school shooting means honoring death and appreciating life.
Scarlett Lewis carries a small piece of glass with her that “almost looks like a quartz crystal.” The piece of glass is from Jesse’s Sandy Hook Elementary School classroom.
After the Connecticut school shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, Scarlett Lewis wasn’t able to go alone back home to her Sandy Hook farm in Newtown, Conn., where her son had lived or to Sandy Hook Elementary School where her son had died.
After a Sandy Hook grief counselor told Scarlett Lewis that “Native Americans consider the place where the dead are slain to be sacred ground,” Scarlett Lewis went on Christmas Day to the place where her son had died. She went to Jesse’s Sandy Hook Elementary School classroom.
“I went because Jesse lived that. He was there. I wanted to honor him and be at the place where he lost his life. … It was devastating, the destruction and damage. I’ve been going to that school for 12 years. The front doors and the side glass were completely blown out and gone and covered with plywood, but you knew what was under it. … And then, the first two classrooms were completely gone. The windows were all blown out. The only other family who had been there was Miss Soto’s family. [Victoria Soto was Jesse’s teacher]. … So we took a piece of glass because there was glass scattered all over and we had a little ceremony. We said we’re going to carry around a piece of glass and we’re going to remember Jesse’s bravery.”
“Whenever we feel like we can’t do something, we’re going to think about our piece of glass and think about what Jesse did running into harm’s way.”
Scarlett Lewis’ Sandy Hook farm, the “Wild Rose Farm, the sanctuary for the soul she bought in 1998,” was not only six-year-old Jesse’s home. It is also the home of Jesse’s 12-year-old brother JT, the family’s horses, dogs, chickens, and “the rest of God’s creatures.”
On her Sandy Hook farm, Scarlett Lewis can “feel Jesse running, laughing and skinning his knees in their hearts … she recognizes her Jesse everywhere she looks, from the little easel he set up next to hers, to his last handwritten Christmas list, which rests on the fireplace mantel now.”
More important though than any of the things that Scarlett Lewis has of Jesse are the memories of the moments that she had given to him while he was alive.
On a blackboard wall which is only a “few feet away from the kitchen growth chart” where Scarlett Lewis had recorded Jesse’s growth for the last time on Nov. 17, 2012, Jesse had written “three carefully chosen words.”
“Norurting, Heling, Love.”
Nurturing, healing, love.
Jesse’s three words explain why Jesse ran toward Adam Lanza and why he tried “to lead his classmates to safety.” Jesse’s heroic and selfless act during the Connecticut school shooting tragedy reflects his mother’s courage, her essence, and her values in life.
“Jesse was loud, a real force. He was all boy, just like JT. … He loved to jump down off the hay bales. My whole philosophy about being a mother is, if they come in with dirty fingernails at night, they’ve had a good time. And the more dirt and mud that comes off them in the shower, the better.”
“It’s really hard for me to come back here because my boys were my life. I’m a single parent, and I did everything with them. … Everybody used to laugh at me because I would say, ‘OK, we’re getting up. We’re doing a hike this morning. We’re going horseback riding this afternoon and we’re going to a movie tonight.’ It was all these jam-packed days with my boys. And now they’re gone.”
Besides nurturing both of her sons’ nature, Scarlett Lewis also nurtured the boys’ need for love.
“I remember seeing Jesse sleeping in bed with his little cheek exposed and thinking, ‘I have to make a call.’ But then I would remind myself not to pass up a moment to kiss his cheek. And I wouldn’t. I would always kiss that cheek. … Never pass up an opportunity like that. Those are gifts. You never know when you won’t get another opportunity to kiss that little cheek.”
Scarlett Lewis lived through a parent’s worst fear. How can any mother or father live on after a child’s death?
If Jesse would have written more than those three words, “”Norurting, Heling, Love,” he most likely would have written, “Your slow healing will come by remembering all the nurturing and love that you gave me every moment while I was with you.”
In today’s world, it appears that tragedies are around every corner and the fear of losing a loved one can grip anyone’s heart and be paralyzing. Without any control over outside events and no guarantee for a tomorrow, Scarlett Lewis is an amazing mother who shows that while we have no control over what is going to happen tomorrow, we do have control over how we spend every moment with our children today.