Five years ago, on Valentine’s Day in 2018, my day began like any other day in our home. My wife and I were getting ready for work, and we were sending our forever 14-year-old daughter Jaime and at the time 16-year-old son Jesse off to school. Jesse is now 22, Jaime is forever 14. The morning was unique in the sense that it was Valentine’s Day which was always my wife’s favorite holiday. I was planning a special evening for our family. On this Valentine’s Day I had a plan to introduce my children to the romance of the day. On this Valentine’s Day, more than any other, I could not wait for my kids to come home from school so that I could bring our family together for a special evening. As the morning progressed, my kids were running late, and I started to rush them. They needed to get to school. On this day, on this Valentine’s Day, my final words to Jesse and Jaime that morning were “you have to go,
you’re going to be late for school.” My final words were not “I LOVE YOU.” I never did get to tell Jaime one last time how much I loved her. Later that day, my daughter Jaime was one of 17 murdered in the Parkland shooting. Thankfully my son Jesse was not shot that day, but the impact of the gun shots and of Jaime’s murder will impact him and our family for the rest of our lives. We were forever changed that day. Our friends and family were forever changed that day. Our community was forever changed that day. The country was forever changed that day. As we now understand deeply, gun violence and its impacts reaches far and wide.
Last year on February 14th, I wrote an essay titled “What If?” What if that day had gone differently.
This year, the cold reality that I can’t find any new pictures or videos of Jaime that I haven’t already shared before, or any new memories to talk about hit me hard. There was no sweet 16, no first boyfriend, no high school graduation memories and pictures, and certainly nothing from what should be Jaime’s best years in college. It all just stopped. It has become clear to me that while I will never let go of the past, I also need to work harder at moving forward. Not moving on but moving forward. Moving forward raises a question for me that I have been struggling with for a long time. Now What? What comes next?
The past five years, every day has been filled with some combination of anger, sadness, loneliness, determination, love, and gratitude. Every day has been a series of new memories as a family without Jaime, which has only added to the anger, sadness, and loneliness. We cannot change what happened to our family and so many others, but we can change the way we move forward. Going forward, I will work hard to ensure my days include far more love and gratitude. I will take some chicken soup for the soul. My wife and I will take real vacations that do not include the computer or social media. We will live, we will laugh, we will love. We will also never move on from the reality of what happened to our family. Our work to remember and honor Jaime will grow. We will embrace new memories, new pictures, and new videos from meaningful moments that are created in Jaime’s memory by helping other families affected by gun violence with our newest initiative PAWS OF LOVE.
With the criminal trial now over, I know longer need to spend time sitting in a trial or thinking about what will happen to the monster who did this. My time will be used continuing to do the important work of reducing gun violence. For me, the unknown and those I will never know will become a source of peace and of hope. Because of the work to reduce gun violence, I won’t get to know a person or family who was not shot or who was not impacted by gun violence, because of a red flag or extreme risk protection order that was used. However, I will think about that dad taking his 14-year-old daughter to dance because an instance of gun violence was prevented. I will think about a dad walking his adult daughter down the aisle because a prior intimate partner was prevented from committing an act of gun violence. I will know that we saved lives, however, I will also know that gun violence exists and the effort to reduce it can never lessen.
Going forward, my life will include far more love and gratitude, and far more time for my family and I to live and make new memories as a family, as well as with our increased focus on supporting the families affected by gun violence. However, I will not stop working to make America a country that truly values life and the importance of our Constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As long as I can be a part of helping a dad take his 14-year-old daughter to dance because of the work to reduce gun violence, my focus there will never wane.