(USA TODAY)

By Laura Vanderkam

A year ago, a friend’s child died in his sleep. I realized soon enough that there was nothing one could say to a parent facing such loss that approached the magnitude of the situation. But I could do one thing. I could make sure that the last words I said to my own three children at night were “I love you.” No matter what happened in their sleep, I would at least know I’d said that.

It is not always an easy vow to keep, especially as the months went by and the shock that drove my initial motivation faded a bit. “Stop hitting your brother! I love you.” Or after being summoned for the third time with the news flash that some child is not yet asleep, “Close your eyes. Just keep them closed. Hey! Get back in your bed. I love you.” Or more commonly, “If I have to come up here one more time there will be big trouble!” Storm into hall. Pause. Shout back into the room: “I love you.”

It sounds ridiculous, sometimes, to be saying “I love you” as I’m slamming the door. But as I watched the news of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn. — a horror unleashed on as idyllic sounding a place as Sandy Hook Elementary School — I was reminded for my reasons. On Friday, parents like me dropped off children as smiling and innocent and mischievous as my 5-year-old. They waved goodbye in the carpool line or walked them to the bus stop. Then they never saw their children alive again.

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