• Ideas

Sandy Hook Mom: I Will Always Remember My Last Mother’s Day With My Son

4 minute read

Rebecca Kowalski is the mother of Chase Kowalski, who was taken in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy at the age of 7.

All I ever wanted was to be a mom. Even though Chase is in Heaven, I am still his mom, and I will always be his mom.

As a mother who has lost a child, one would think that yet another Mother’s Day would bring great sadness. But for me, this isn’t the case. I will always find a way to be happy on Mother’s Day because that is how I choose to live my life. I am grateful for all that I am and all that I have. I was truly blessed with three happy, healthy children, a supportive husband and a lovely life.

I do what I do to keep my head above water, to not drown in sorrow. I want to show my two beautiful daughters that you can walk through grief gracefully, but at the same time, you can choose to literally run and fight it. Chase was such a remarkable testament to the power of running. He was full of kindness, personality and a love for competition. He began running track races at the tender age of 2 and entered his first triathlon—winning his age group—at 6-years-old. After losing him, I too turned to running. It started out as way to feel connected to Chase, but ultimately, it turned into something so much more.

As a self-proclaimed non-runner, I was on a personal mission to improve my own health. I started getting myself in shape, walking with friends and then running 5Ks. Eventually, I entered my first triathlon as a part of my quest to complete ten athletic competitions between Chase’s 9th and 10th birthdays—what I refer to as the “Birthday to Birthday Challenge.” My bib number was #2692. To the average person, this number would have gone unnoticed, but for me, it was most definitely a sign from my boy—#26 for our 26 Sandy Hook angels taken that day and #92 for Chase’s first and only triathlon bib number. I must have gone through every possible emotion that day, but Chase’s spirit of competition was with me, and I finished 15 minutes faster than I expected I would—one of the greatest accomplishments of my life!

While this Sunday will be bittersweet, I will always cherish my last Mother’s Day with Chase. I have such fond memories of waking up and seeing my sweet boy holding a tray with a bowl of his favorite cereal, Honey Nut Cheerios, a peeled banana and strawberries, along with a handmade card and flowers. Something he created just for me, all by himself, while the rest of the house was asleep. In that moment, I thought to myself: “Wow. Life really doesn’t get any better than this!”

To have a child whose heart was filled with love and who left an impression on everyone he met was such a blessing. To have that same sweet child be taken in such a horrific manner was devastating. But to be able to turn his life and subsequent death into a positive, uplifting legacy that helps other children—that was just an amazing act of divine intervention.

In remembrance of Chase and the other students and educators lost that day, my family created a charity in his honor—the CMAK (Chase Michael Anthony Kowalski) Sandy Hook Memorial Foundation. In an effort to capture Chase’s competitive spirit and vitality, the foundation aims to inspire community healing through health and wellness initiatives for children and their families. To date, the foundation has donated more than $60,000 in preschool scholarships to the area YMCA, and its “Race4Chase Kids Triathlon Program” has helped train nearly 500 6- to 12-years-olds to complete a triathlon.

I’m smiling now, because my boy has topped himself once again. I was recently honored by Fleet Feet Sports and Mizuno with “The Power of Running to Inspire Award,” which will allow me to share Chase’s story and continue his legacy, for years to come. I have received so many kind words of support and encouragement, making for a very humbling and very Heavenly Mother’s Day.

While I still have many days filled with sadness, I draw great strength from my faith, my family and from the seven years of pure love, joy and happiness we shared together. The bonds between a mother and her child run so deep, and thankfully, that’s a bond that will last forever between Chase and me.

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.