Ten years ago, Jen Hensel lost her daughter, Avielle Richman, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty first graders and six adults were murdered. That shooting should have been a singular event — a transformative moment leading to stricter gun control laws and a national coming together to make schools safer. While some legislation has passed since then, it’s not enough. For NPR, Tovia Smith describes Hensel’s journey in the years after Avielle’s death: how she and her husband, Jeremy Richman, set up a foundation focused on neuroscience research and violence prevention; how she has coped with the death of Richman, who died by suicide in 2019; and how — despite it all — she has found some happiness with her two kids, Owen and Imogen. Smith’s portrait of Hensel is devastating and emotional; it’s impossible not to imagine her — and other parents’ — pain. “You have to imagine it,” Richman once said. To face the horror of gun violence — not turn away from it.
But embedded in every such joy is perpetual pain. It’s no longer the raw, relentless kind that made it hard to stand up 10 years ago, Hensel says. But it’s still sharp enough to blindside you and bring you to your knees.
Hensel’s dear friend Francine Wheeler, who also lost her 6-year-old, Ben, at Sandy Hook, agrees. They share an aversion to the word “closure” and bristle at the very idea of a “10th anniversary” — and the implied expectations around where they should be in the arc of their grief.