Visiting Sandy Hook parents know Marysville’s grief

EVERETT — Better than anyone, Nicole Hockley and Mark Barden know the deep despair of grieving Tulalip and Marysville families. They know there is little comfort, not now.

When a student opened fire at Marysville Pilchuck High School Friday, these parents were 3,000 miles away. They were home in Newtown, Connecticut.

“For me Friday, the aerial footage of the school, the kids leaving the school, it takes me right back,” Hockley said. She lives with the agony families here now feel, “and everything that comes after.”

Hockley and Barden each lost a beautiful son in the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. First-graders Dylan Hockley, 6, and Daniel Barden, 7, were among 20 children and six Sandy Hook staff members who died that day in a gunman’s attack at their school.

“We know what it’s like down the road,” said Barden, who on Tuesday joined Hockley for an interview at The Daily Herald.

Having lost a little boy who lit up her world, Hockley found purpose after Newtown’s nightmare.

“It’s important to remember that you will find a way through this,” she said. “You will never be the same. Your community will never be the same.”

Both are involved in Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit group that helps people affected by the Newtown tragedy and seeks ways to prevent similar acts of violence. Barden and Hockley were in the Seattle area this week to support Initiative 594. The initiative would expand background checks on firearm sales and transfers to include gun show and online transactions.

Barden, 50, is advocacy director for Sandy Hook Promise. Hockley, 43, is communications director for the Newtown-based organization. Hockley said they have visited 18 states in support of gun safety, but most of the group’s work is not political.

“Our mission is to protect children from gun violence,” she said.

The group looks at what people can do in their own homes, and how to recognize cries for help if a troubled person may be seeing violence as a way out.

Access to mental health services is key, though the group sees broader ways to help young people with social and emotional development.

Rather than an overwhelming issue with no solution, Barden said he sees “a multitude of opportunities” for trying to prevent tragedies like those that took lives at Sandy Hook, Marysville Pilchuck, and school shootings around the country.

Here though, it is the season of grief. These parents know what that means.

“Not everyone is going to grieve the same way,” Hockley said. “Some will focus on how to make a difference. Some will focus on getting back to normal. As people decide their different ways forward, accept that no two paths are the same.”

Barden said it helps, after a devastating loss, not to impose expectations on others — or on yourself.

“Sometimes there’s nothing wrong with staying in bed and allowing yourself to cry,” Hockley said. “There’s also nothing wrong with going out in public and laughing.”

She has what she calls a “Swiss-cheese” memory of the dreadful days right after the Newtown tragedy. They attended many funerals. Sandy Hook’s grieving families were shielded from media and onlookers by law enforcement. Barden had a houseful of relatives answering his phone. Hockley was angered when people who barely knew her family were quoted in media reports, talking about her Dylan.

Both have other children. Jake Hockley, now 10, was 8 when he lost his little brother. James and Natalie Barden are now 14 and 12. “Find a way to allow kids to express themselves. Be there for them short-term, and long-term,” said Hockley, who has learned that grief is as individual as each person and as lasting as a lifetime.

Barden said hundreds of Newtown adults and children are in therapy. He hopes that any stigma anyone sees in seeking mental health counseling will be overcome.

He said his aim has been finding a way to “stand on top of your tragedy, rather than be mired in it.” Not quite two years after losing his son, he is angry that school shootings continue. “It just keeps growing. We can do something about it, or not,” Barden said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Learn more

Sandy Hook Promise is a nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. It supports families, staff and others affected by the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School and seeks ways to prevent similar acts of violence. The group promotes a national dialogue related to mental health, school safety and gun responsibility. More info: www2.sandyhookpromise.org.

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