BRENTWOOD - It's hard to imagine the grief felt by the parents of the 20 young children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., unless you're Ken and Danielle Lambert.
Four years ago, the Brentwood couple had just celebrated Christmas with their 5-year-old daughter, Kaleigh, and 4-year-old son, Shane, when they received the news that will haunt them forever.
Their only children were supposed to be going to a sleepover with their aunt, Marci Thibault, but instead, she pulled over on the side of Interstate 495 in Lowell, Mass., and intentionally walked them into oncoming traffic. Thibault and the children were struck and killed in a horrific accident that the Lamberts say resulted from a misunderstood mental illness.
While the circumstances surrounding the deaths in Newtown and the Lamberts' loss aren't exactly the same, the grief is no different.
"Not a lot of people know what those parents are thinking or feeling or facing. Obviously Danielle and I know and you don't wish that on anyone. With one town to have all of that at once is really unbelievable," Ken Lambert said Tuesday while reflecting on his darkest days and how he and his wife found the strength to move forward.
The Lamberts have since formed a mental health awareness group called Keep Sound Minds, and 17 months ago began a new chapter as a family while keeping the memories of Kaleigh and Shane close. "We were blessed 17 months ago with twin baby boys, who have been a joy and have given us a 'second chance' in many ways. Due to this we are in a much better place than we were three to four years ago. We are very grateful," Lambert said.
Like many, the Lamberts have watched some of the news coverage from Newtown, but they've had to turn the television off at times. The tragedy has brought them back to that awful night - Jan. 11, 2008.
"It's hard. I don't want to watch that much of it, but it's tough to avoid because it's everywhere. It's very sad and it's certainly the time of year similar to our circumstances. The last few days have been pretty difficult for us," Lambert said.
The ages of the children killed in Newtown are similar to those of Kaleigh and Shane, and much like what happened in the wake of their deaths, there is speculation about the mental health of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza.
Only a few months after losing their children, the Lamberts began working on forming a nonprofit organization that later became known as Keep Sound Minds. The goal was to raise awareness of mental health issues, especially for those in the law enforcement community who come face to face with the mentally ill on a regular basis.
"For us, it was very important to do something positive and productive," Lambert said. The couple also wanted to find a way to keep the memory of their children and Danielle's sister, Marci, alive.
"A parent doesn't want to see their name disappear," Lambert said.
As the parents in Newtown struggle to find ways to cope with the loss, Lambert recalled the difficulties he and his wife faces in those early days.
"After the first two weeks, the hardest part was just an empty and quiet household; that being a constant reminder that they're not there. That quietness, it doesn't disappear," he said.
It will also be difficult in a month or two when others not directly affected by the tragedy in Newtown begin to move on with their lives.
"That's just the way it is, but the parents and the siblings, they won't get back to their normal lives in a couple of months. They won't ever, really," Lambert said.
Meanwhile, the Lamberts are still active with Keep Sounds Minds. This year they were involved with public seminars on general mental health education and awareness and continue to offer mental health interaction trainings for police and fire departments in New Hampshire and Massachusetts at free or reduced rates. They have also planned a comedy night fundraiser in late February and will hold its first large-scale dinner/educational fundraiser in May.
More information on the group's activities can be found on its website, keepsoundminds.org
. Lambert urged anyone interested in scheduling a training to contact the group through the website.
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