As I watch the country try to process the events of December 14 and the horror that visited Sandy Hook Elementary School, I hear over and over people say “I can’t imagine.”  We look at the photos, listen to survivors, scour the stories for details but still, we cannot imagine what it must be like for those parents and grandparents and classmates.  They have no choice but to sit in the eye of the storm with no place to go, even for a moment, from the reality that is now their forever.

It is, thankfully, unimaginable for the rest of us.

We will all move on, because that is human nature.  The fresh horror fades, the links to memorials and calls to action that I see repeated again and again on Facebook and Twitter will be replaced, eventually, with stories of our kids and cats and jobs.  We will remember occasionally when the media gives us a nudge – when decisions are made about the school building, if new details emerge about the shooter’s motive, on the one-year anniversary.   And if our horror and outrage live on in the form of stronger-gun control laws then we can all feel like maybe, in some small way, something good came from the unimaginable.

But for those who don’t have to imagine, healing will be slow and torturous.  How can the world keep turning for us when it has stopped for them? What will happen when the spotlight fades and the people not directly affected begin to forget?

A friend of mine experienced the unimaginable this summer when she suddenly and unexplainably lost her beautiful daughter a week before her second birthday.  I hugged my own toddler tighter and checked on her dozens of times as she slept but still, I could not imagine.

Instead, I remembered.  When my friend asked her friends and family to send her stories of her beloved “T”, I dug deep to think about a little girl I had only recently met as a new friend for my daughter.  I recalled trips to the swimming pool, a play date in my back yard, and the giggles and messes – especially the messes – that seem to accompany two-year-olds wherever they go.

I read the memories of those who had known T better and watched the videos of her dancing and sliding and eating sprinkles and finally, I could imagine.  When my daughter sweetly asked for a bowl of cereal to eat with her sisters and then promptly dumped it on the floor so she could hear it crunch under her feet, I could imagine T doing the same thing and hearing her giggle as her parents lunged for the paper towels.  When I discovered “E” drawing on the floor and she proudly told me it was her “homework”, I could imagine T matter-of-factly scribbling away, and it made me smile.

As the years go by, my daughter will reach new milestones and I know I will imagine T right there next to her, whispering in her ear, running down the halls of their school, dancing together around the family room.

When an octogenarian passes away, we remember, and the memories are rich and varied and long.  But when a child dies, we run out of memories far too soon.  Imagining allows that child to grow in our minds and keeps them present in our lives.  And so it is with the children of Sandy Hook.  I didn’t know any of them personally, but I have seen their pictures and read their stories and heard their parents and I can imagine.

I can imagine Emilie sitting on the sofa, a little sister cuddled up tight against her on both sides while she carefully sounds out a story in her new-reader voice.

I can picture James wiggling with excitement before a school play, singing his heart out and craning his neck to make sure his parents are watching.

I imagine Avielle and Jessica running up to the stables where they ride, patting the horses on their sides as high as they can reach, talking to their instructors about what new skills they are going to learn.

I’ll admit I cannot fathom the strength it must have taken Noah’s mother to write and then deliver the beautiful eulogy she gave to her son, but I can see him with no trouble at all, stomping around the house, teasing and then hugging his twin sister and begging his mom to make tacos for dinner.

Caroline and Olivia are twirling with their friends in dance class, practicing leaps and curtsies.  What they lack in rhythm they make up for tenfold in spirit.

Jack Pinto is standing in front of the television watching his beloved New York Giants.  He is too excited to sit down and you can see the intensity in his eyes as he follows the play on the screen almost as if he is there himself.

And so it goes.  I hope that as time passes and our own children grow, we can take a moment not just to count the many blessings in our lives but to imagine those who lives were cut short.  Imagine them dancing and cheering and running and learning.  Arguing and crying and sulking.  Succeeding and failing.  Being the kids they were meant to be.  Imagining cannot bring them back but it will keep them with us.  Imagine.