Alissa Parker: Finding Emilie

Wed Jun 22 09:00:31 EDT 2022
Episode 184

December 14, 2012, is remembered by many as the day of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. But Alissa Parker remembers it as the day she lost her daughter, Emilie. In the nine and a half years since Alissa has found solace in the kindness of others and in the goodness of a God who has allowed her to feel her daughter's presence time and time again. While the trauma of her loss still causes Alissa to feel anxiety, she continues to find comfort in the confidence that she will be reunited with Emilie again.

I think there's a lot of heartache, beauty, trial, and error that occurs in our lives, and to be all in is to keep going and to keep having faith that those pieces will eventually make sense.
Alissa Parker

Episode References
Book: An Unseen Angel

Church video:

Safe and Sound Schools

Timeout For Women Talks:

Faith Counts video:

Terri Turley’s Son

Show Notes:
2:03- Emilie
12:44- The Aftermath
17:58- Where Was God?
22:59- The Many Ways We Mourn With Those Who Mourn
31:36- “What Her Life Had Now Become”
36:03- Avoiding Pointing Fingers
40:12- Safe and Sound Schools
44:15- Everything Is Connected
49:39- What Does It Mean To Be All In the Gospel of Jesus Christ?


Morgan Jones Pearson 0:00

In the days following the recent Uvalde shooting, my husband and I found ourselves revisiting the Church's video that told the story of Emilie Parker, one of the 20 children who died tragically in the Sandy Hook school shootings on December 14, 2012. It was after watching that video that I wondered if Alissa Parker, Emilie's mother would be willing to talk with me. Somehow it felt like because she experienced one of these heinous incidents on such a personal level, she might be able to help us know how to best respond. I'm grateful she was gracious enough to do this interview. Alissa Parker graduated from Weber State University after the tragedy at Sandy Hook she co-founded Safe and Sound Schools, a national non-profit School Safety Advocacy and Resource Center. She also co-founded the Emilie Parker art connection, which gives to art programs for kids across the country. She is the author of the book, An Unseen Angel: A Memoir of Faith, Hope and Healing. This is All In an LDS Living podcast where we ask the question, what does it really mean to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ. I'm Morgan Pearson. And I am so honored to have Alissa Parker on the line with me today. Alissa, welcome.

Alissa Parker 1:22

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me.

Morgan Jones Pearson 1:25

Well, I have to tell you, in preparation for this conversation, I read your book. And we'll talk a little bit here shortly about how you felt guided and led to write this book. But I was so touched by it. And my husband came home from work and I was telling him all about the the stories that you share and the testimony that you bear throughout that book and how touched I was by it. So first of all, for those that are not familiar with Alissa's book, you should absolutely read it. But for those that are not familiar with your story, can you tell listeners about your experience as a mother on December 14, 2012?

Alissa Parker 2:14

Yeah, our family of five they had three daughters, my oldest one, Emilie, she was in first grade at the time, and we just were really recently moved to Connecticut. And we were excited to kind of start this new chapter in our lives. And that day was just like any other day, you know, it was getting close to winter break. And they were doing gingerbread houses at the school and it was a Friday so my daughter Emilie was super excited, because that night we were going to be rehearsing for our ward's nativity scene that they were going to do for the Christmas party. So there was just a lot of excitement in the air and she went off to school and I went to go do some last minute Christmas shopping with my youngest, Samantha, was three at the time, and the other one was in preschool. And I received a phone call from the school that there had been a shooting. And at the time, I didn't know which school it was, it wasn't specified. It was just that a school in our district. And there will be more information to come. And I just remember being stunned. I'm standing in the store and I remember shaking immediately. And I googled Sandy Hook Elementary School, which was my daughter's school. And the only thing that came up with the school's website. And I didn't know what to do, I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know if I should go to the school if I should, you know, I just felt lost and I called my husband. And he had just received the same message from the school and he worked at the hospital nearby and he had gone into his break room and he was turning on the TV. And that's where I was told that it was at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the school that my daughter was at. And immediately my heart just dropped. I knew where my daughter's classroom was located, which was towards the front of the school. And fear just completely took over. I recalled the last time that I had been in the school, when I had verbally said to my husband, concerns about the safety of the school building and the fact that the kids couldn't lock their classroom door from the inside, that they would have to go into this hallway, as we were walking in this hallway, they would have to go into this hallway in order to secure their doors. And you know, I just sat in panic, thinking about someone coming in wanting to do harm and how close my daughter was to that harm. My husband told me that they weren't going towards the school at that moment, that we weren't supposed to approach it because first responders were trying to get there. And this is a small town, small community. And so you don't have a lot of space on the roads, if that makes sense. These neighborhoods have been there for quite some time. And so it took a long time before I ended up going towards the school and it was just complete chaos. And when I got there, I remember because my phone was just going off the hook. And I remember people trying to message me asking, you know, is everything okay? Is that Emilie's school and I just kept envisioning, okay, I'm gonna get there. I have my two girls, I picked up my daughter preschool on the way and I am streaming these two little girls along on this crazy road. And I'm just envisioning, okay, as soon as I see her, I'm going to take a picture and send a blast text message out to everyone. "Emilie's okay, everything's fine," you know. And when I got to the firehouse, which is on the corner of the driveway, that you take into the school, that was kind of where everyone was meeting. I look around, and I can't find her anywhere. And I remember a teacher making eye contact with me and asking who my child was and who her teacher was. And she's like, Okay, well, that would have been located at the front of the school so she would have been one of the first to evacuate. So they put me in the back with all these other parents that were kind of waiting to reunite with their kids, the back of this firehouse and in this firehouse, you know, I'm a rule follower, I think sometimes members of the Church are typically like that were rules. For sure, no, I was told, like, you need to stay here. And so that's what I did. I stayed there thinking this is where I'm gonna get all the information. This is where I'm going to see a whole lot of traffic, people coming in people coming out, reuniting and leaving, and instead, this room just piled. And we developed quite a large group of people in there. And at that point, I recall feeling very uncomfortable at how quiet it was.

And essentially, we weren't told much, because what I didn't know at the time is they didn't want to say something they couldn't take back. And they didn't know who these children were that had been injured. They didn't want to say anything. So we were told people were taken to the hospital. So essentially, I just I tried to be as patient as I could, but it was really difficult. And it was an overwhelming experience just waiting in this room for hours and hours. Luckily, I had a neighbor of mine who was in my ward, which is very rare back east to have someone who lives right by you in your ward, because everyone is so spread out, you know, our ward was a 60 mile radius and I so appreciated her being able to come in and take my kids. And then in fact, her husband took them home. And then she came back and was there with me, which was incredibly helpful, because I was shaking so bad that I couldn't text my fingers. I couldn't, I didn't have the dexterity because I was shaking so badly that I could text people who were asking for information about Emilie that were family and friends. And essentially, you know, about five and a half hours into this ordeal, we were finally told that if we were in that room, then our child had been killed. And there is no pain that can compare to a moment like that. I remember just being completely overwhelmed, not being able to breathe. I had already had kind of a—I went into shock earlier, they almost took me out of the room to the hospital, because I couldn't breathe and I was struggling. And at that point, I just wanted to leave and go home. And I remember, you know, just the chaos when we left the firehouse there were all these reporters that were there. And keep in mind, I'm the follower or the rule follower. I hadn't left this place this whole time. And I had no idea that there were photographers there to capture that moment where I had just found out my daughter was dead and they were following us and they were getting in our face and taking pictures and I remember just being so caught off guard for one and then so resentful and angry that they felt like they had the right to kind of be there in that moment. So I'm filled with so many emotions and these sweet firemen came up and started pushing people away from us and creating a pathway that a safe pathway for us to walk. And I remember being so grateful to them for that small act of kindness, it's just helped me recenter myself in that just one brief moment, to feel that love, and to feel that gratitude. And I remember getting to my car and just feeling so overwhelmed. For the first time it was quiet, that whole day, you know, I've been this room with all these parents and my husband and I sat there. And I remember, we said a prayer. And my husband said the prayer. And I don't really remember a whole lot about what was said in that prayer. But I distinctly remember hearing a voice come to me. And this voice was a very sacred moment for me and this voice told me that Emilie was okay. And that everything my family needed to get through this would be provided for. And I felt calm. for that brief moment, and feeling calm and feeling hopeful, it went away pretty quick. And I immediately kind of almost felt like it was a dare. Like, okay, you think you can do this, you think you're gonna make something feel normal again? You know, it was almost like, immediately I challenged the prompting to say, Okay, let's see how you are going to help me through this because right now, I'm lost. My world has just been shattered. But there were so many times in that journey that that prompting helped stabilize me and recenter me, as I didn't lose my faith, as I did lose touch with what was really important. I could always cling to that and say, you just got to have faith, and you just don't know all the answers. But he promised he promised it. And I'm so grateful that we have such a loving Heavenly Father that is there for us in our darkest moments like that. And for me, that was absolutely what I needed to hear.

Morgan Jones Pearson 12:28

Well, first of all, thank you so much for sharing all of that. I know that it's like asking you to relive something that was absolutely horrific. But I think that you touched on a couple of things. And, in reading your book, I felt like there were two kind of themes. One was showing the way that God did take care of you through that darkest time. And the other was you talked about, you wanted to know that Emilie was okay. And you wanted to know where she was and what she was doing and how Heavenly Father gave you little glimpses of that. And so before we get into talking a little bit more about this experience, you have said that you felt inspired to write this book, and that you were writing it amid grief and trauma, and anxiety that was brought on by that trauma. Tell me a little bit about how you dealt with that. And then how you decided to write a book, even as you were dealing with those things.

Alissa Parker 13:37

Yeah, it was something that you know, you're never quite prepared for, not just the sudden loss of your daughter. And that in and of itself, is completely overwhelming. But we were also thrown into a very unfamiliar world of media attention. I couldn't walk anywhere where people didn't stop and want to hug me. And I know, it was so sweet and so loving. I felt this obligation to comfort them to make them feel better. And I didn't feel good. And I didn't want to be the person to comfort them. And yeah, I put that pressure on myself. And we were lied to a lot by public, you know, either public entities or figures. A lot of people took advantage of our situation and any tragedy experiences a lot of this aftermath where you're constantly surprised by some of the things that people do. And so in the midst of all of all the grief, there was a lot of anxiety that I experienced that I had never imagined, I would never have imagined I would have to go through, and I found myself wanting to isolate, one to not talk to people, wanting to stay way. Shortly after Emilie died a year after we moved away, and we moved to this three acre property out in the middle of nowhere. And I was so excited, we'd just gotten settled. And I just could breathe. And I felt like I just want to stay here forever and hide. Because I just, I just felt overwhelmed. And even though I was working in nonprofit work, it was still completely saturated with anxiety for me, it was still very difficult. And I thought, okay, I can just try and manage my anxieties as best as I can. And this will work, I can do this. And at that same time, I started to feel this prompting that I was supposed to share my journey and my story. And I felt really defiant. Because I was like, No, I just got here. And I want to just stay away, I don't want to talk to people about this, I don't want to put myself out there in a very vulnerable way. I'm good, I'm done. And I'm telling you for months, I had this voice get louder and louder in my head, just kept coming to me. And I just defiantly just said no, not doing it. And I remember this one day, I broke down crying. My husband and I said, Heavenly Father wants me to write my story. And I don't want to do it. And I just cried. And it was genuinely scary for me. And I just didn't want to do it. I didn't want to put myself through that. And I remember just feeling so overwhelmed. But again, what I learned from my experience with Emilie's death was if Heavenly Father promises you something, he's going to create a way for you to do it. And that was his testimony builder for me to be able to, to write my story. For one, I'm not a writer, and to have the help that I needed to come in and edit it, just the recall of remembering the stories and the things that I needed. And he just put all the right people in place for it to happen. And, for me, it ended up just being an incredible opportunity for me to journal and to really come to terms with what had happened. And to create this beautiful story that I was, I am now able to share it with my family. And there's just nothing more special to me than being able to share my testimony with my children. And so In the end, I'm super grateful for that opportunity and the lessons that I learned from that experience.

Morgan Jones Pearson 17:58

Well, and I love in the book, you kind of sum up your what you feel like your story tells and you say, "Although it contains tragedy, my story is ultimately not tragic. The story I feel compelled to share is one of help and healing. It is a story of how God's love and protection surrounded me during my darkest hour." And I feel like there are a lot of people, Alissa, that will hear your experience. And they'll be like, well, how can this lady say that God was in that story? You know, where where was God in this terrible tragedy? What would you say to those people?

Alissa Parker 18:45

I think that it's understandable why people struggle with that. And there was a lot of parents that were in the same boat with me that understandably struggled with that. And there was no judgment on that process and having to come to terms with that, because I think it's a very natural struggle for a lot of people to say, I don't see God's hand in this. I don't understand that. And I think for me, I was lucky to kind of come to terms with that relationship. Prior to Emilie's death. I had amazing parents that were really vocal about their own spiritual journey. And we had had some tragic circumstances that were around us that my parents really were vocal about how God's relationship is with us when tragedy strikes, and that his role is really to be there to support us. We were brought to the third not necessarily to avoid difficult things you know, things are are set in motion. People have free agency and bad things just happen. And unfortunately, it is a part of this life. But the grace that we are given through the Atonement, and the healing powers of the Atonement are what holds us afloat. And I think that for me, I really didn't ever understand. Prior to this, really how the Talmud can heal, broken hearts I had looked at it always is what we're taught when we're young, you know, the, the Atonement is there for us to repent and to be forgiven of our sins. But I never understood that it is also a way for us to heal from this tragic things. And so for me, when people talk about, no, where was God's hand in this, where was he? Where was your God, and at the end of the day, I felt like my God was there with my daughter, welcoming, I felt like my God was there with me, the whole time supporting me lovingly. That has never wavered for me, because I felt his presence. And sometimes, I think it takes a lot of effort to see God's hand when we're going through difficult times. You know, since that tragedy, I have had friends that have suffered some more losses, and I can just see their hearts struggled to find meaning in the meaningless as far as like these tragic, tragic losses of either child, or parent or loved one. It's really hard, it is really hard. And I think it takes a lot of quiet moments, to really find and to take the noise out until really be thoughtful and prayerful about given the giving, prayerful about finding opportunities to be given the opportunity to see his hand, because it doesn't always come overtly. It is subtle. But I found that having gone through multiple tragedies, unfortunately, how in tune I then become to his hand, and I can see it more clearly. And I am grateful for that. am I grateful so much for the tragedies, not so much. But I am grateful that I have been given the opportunity to practice and learn to build that relationship with him to be able to see its presence. But it does take work. And it does take time. And it doesn't come automatically. Yeah.

Morgan Jones Pearson 22:59

One of the things Alissa, that I found most heartbreaking in your book is you talked about how you had just moved to this place. And you mentioned that earlier that you had this neighbor friend, but you really didn't know many people. And so it was like you had this desire to connect with other people that were going through the same thing. And and there were other parents, but you didn't know those people. And so I wondered, what did you learn from that experience about why we need each other?

Alissa Parker 23:35

Like I said, I was feeling very isolated, because I didn't know how to respond to people and people didn't know how to respond to me. And you'll hear that often from someone who's suffered a loss, that people are kind of awkward, right. And to be honest, you're feeling awkward, too. And it is a very lonely place to be and you don't always know the right things to say. And, you know, people would say things like, Oh, you, you can tell me, you know, what you're going through, and I would let a sliver of what was really going on in my head and the trauma that I was trying to make sense of, and they would just burst out crying and it would be too much. And they would tell me to stop and I just didn't know how to navigate relationships anymore. And for me, it was incredibly important to talk to people who understood and those families were just godsend for me. And it was a really interesting thing to also go through a very spiritual experience trying to understand and come to terms with the death of a child and you're thinking through all the things you've been taught and, and trying to come to terms with their death, which is all a very spiritual experience. And I'm doing that with a group of people, none of which were of my faith. And that was was a really eye opening for me because most of my social circles had centered around people with my same faith, because that's how I met people when I moved. And at that point, we had moved a lot as a family. And so that was always the way that I found other moms that have kids my same age, you know, let me babysit for you, you babysit for me. And that was always an easy Avenue. And so those were my social circles. And I had never really opened myself up to talk about my faith that way with other people, and especially at a time where all of us we don't have the luxury of theorizing, what if? It happened to us, and I learned so much about God's presence in other people's lives, outside of my own faith in a way that I had never anticipated. And not just that, that, you know, so many people were writing this letters, reaching out to us, people who were of all faiths. And they were really bearing their testimony in these letters, and I had the opportunity to just stand as a witness to how big God's love is and how many people it reaches because oftentimes, they think you get focused on your own faith, your own circles. But what a wasted opportunity that would be for God to only speak to those people, right? He's speaking to everyone, and He's a part of everyone's life to some degree. And it was a beautiful thing for me to witness how He works on such a large scale, I guess that was just never something I had the opportunity to be privy to. And I find that to be an incredible blessing that I was able to give, be given that opportunity.

Morgan Jones Pearson 26:57

And I think you did such a great job outlining the many different ways that you saw that from the friend that you made, whose daughter had also been killed, and how she said, I hope you believe in heaven. And she wasn't a member of our faith. And then I love the story of the US Airways grew, you know, showering her casket as it was being transported to Utah. And then I also was so touched by the example of Terri, who was a member of your church congregation and her ability to mourn with you because of what she had experienced. And I wondered if you could tell listeners about her and what you learned from her example.

Alissa Parker 27:47

It's interesting, because I don't know that I could have ever been as insightful as my sweet Terri Turley. She was the primary teacher of one of my daughters, but this woman had been in every calling, she was just one of those sweet, tender hearted people that you see at church every week, that just have a special glow to them, because they're incredibly angelic and beautiful, inside and out. And she was just one of those people and her son had been killed on his mission. And a drunk driver had hit him when he was walking with his companion down the road, and he was killed. And they had the opportunity to go down and meet with the young man who the driver who killed her son, and what a blessing to be able to kind of get that perspective from someone who was down the road a bit. But one of the things that she provided, you know, in addition to that, that support as far as grief is concerned. And I'll never forget this conversation, because I don't know if anyone else relates to this, but I do not accept help very easily. I don't enjoy it. Every time I had a baby, I would reject people bringing me food. I just I don't know how to accept help. And she came to me and this woman is incredibly close to my daughter's because as a primary teacher, she's involved in their lives and plays with him all the time. Her kids were all out of the house. She only had her son that lived with her that he was in his 20s when he was special needs. And she had to take care of him. And she just came to me and she said, "Listen, I'm in a," ugh I'm going to get emotional just saying it. She said "I'm in a position in my life, where I'm given the opportunity to be able to serve" and she did, she came and she took my kids once a week for a day, no questions asked, no expectation on what I did. I could lay in bed all I wanted, I could go golfing, I could get grocery shopping, whatever, you know, the expectation was, it was just time for me. And my kids loved her and loved being with her. And she didn't complicate things. She didn't expect me to talk to her. It was a simple transaction, that she would come every week, once a week and get those kids and she would give them a great time, she would have so much fun with them. I remember one time they came home and said we had an orange day where everything on our plate for lunch was orange. We had macaroni and cheese and sliced up oranges and carrots, and just some little simple things that at that moment, I couldn't do with my children. I struggled to play with them, I struggled to do anything with them. And so to see someone else, take that role, and just be able to give them silliness when I wasn't capable of mean when we talked about service, it can be that simple.

Morgan Jones Pearson 31:23

I thought that example was so, so sweet. And also, it made me want to be that kind of person. So I'm grateful to you for sharing that. Alissa, at Emilie's funeral, Elder Quentin L. Cook spoke. And you said that during his talk, you're like, I don't remember much about the funeral. But then there was a moment where he said that he wanted to speak directly to you as Emilie's mom. And he said, avoid dwelling on the lost opportunities in this life. And you wrote, "I had faith that somehow I could do that if only He could show me what her life had now become." How do you feel like the Lord helped you see what Emilie's life had become following her passing? And how did you feel evidence of the fact that she is very much still living?

Alissa Parker 32:21

And I'm gonna try and summarize very long answer the best I can. Because the truth is, for me, there was a lot of healing I had to do in order to get those answers. And I talk a lot about that in the book, that in some ways, I was kind of my own worst enemy. Because I wanted to feel close to her, I wanted to feel the spirit, I wanted to understand what her new life look like. And yet, I was so angry and so bitter in my heart, about this young man who had killed my daughter, that the two couldn't coexist. And I didn't understand that at the time, that that anger and that I felt in my heart, if you are to visualize what it felt like that that was preventing me from experiencing the thing that I wanted more than anything that moment. And so it really took me on a scavenger hunt of sorts, a spiritual scavenger hunts of moments that were beautifully orchestrated by her Heavenly Father to help guide me to find forgiveness, and to heal that part of my heart. And as my heart was softening, and being able to find that forgiveness and using the Atonement along the way. I was given the opportunity to see what our faith often describes as ministering angels, the work that my daughter was doing from the other side, and seeing the people's lives that she was touching, and to feel of her spirit and her presence in my own family, in my own home, with my own children. It was a beautiful experience to see the plan of salvation come to life. And that it wasn't just something we talked about at church, that it was a physical part of my life. And in the years that have passed, that hasn't changed. She's still so present in our home and present in my life. And I mean, just recently I had this experience where I just felt overcome and overwhelmed. And you know, I haven't been shy about the fact that I have really bad anxiety and I had had this anxiety attack. And I just pray during the anxiety attack, please help me, and immediately, I felt love. And I bought this picture, plug to Deseret Book, there was this beautiful picture that they have, that they sell that has this woman, and all these angels are stacked up behind her, holding her and helping her. And that was a depiction in my mind of what had happened in that moment, me. And so I bought that picture. And I hung it in the spot in my house where it happened as a reminder that those sweet beings that are on the other side are part of our lives, and that we have access to them. It's just what a blessing right? What a blessing that the gospel is.

Morgan Jones Pearson 36:01

Absolutely. I want to tell listeners, when I reached out to Alissa, through a co-worker, Alissa had mentioned that she hadn't done any interviews recently in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. But that she was willing to do this interview because she was able to share her faith. And first of all, I don't think there's anything better that could be shared right now than faith. Because I think that's pretty much all we have to hope for and all the beautiful parts of this existence center around the hope that can come into our lives as a result of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the book, you wrote this: "After the shooting, I was shocked, the nation was shocked, to see the power and impact one man's evil act had on so many innocent people. It was hard not to feel that the power of evil was winning in the world. But at the same time, God's love had touched thousands and thousands of people's hearts and prompted them to take a stand against evil to send some token of love and kindness. I was given the unique opportunity to be a witness to many of these defiantly kind acts, people from all different walks of life, all different faiths and backgrounds, wrote to us and to our suffering families with unified love and power. It was beautiful and it helped me see the power of goodness again." I love the way you said defiantly kind acts as if it was defiant to what evil was trying to do in the world by filling that space with kindness. I think at this time, we have a choice of what we will focus on. Because I feel like the adversary is trying more than ever to assert that power. Why was it helpful for you to focus on the goodness that still existed in the wake of this tragedy?

Alissa Parker 38:05

For me, personally, I have always been frustrated with finger pointing. And when tragic events like this happen, I think it's always I think it's healthy to be able to assess something and see, you know what we feel like it's not working. But I don't feel like it's productive to blame. And to point fingers and to take what we fear and project it as fault. I think that's human nature. I think that's how we oftentimes cope with things to try and make us feel safer to make us feel better to, to deal with those overwhelming emotions. But for me, I have found that it's more productive, to focus on what unifies us, and what we can do to contribute to make the situation, the world itself, a better place. And I chose to not participate in those arguments per se, but instead, put my actions forward and putting those efforts into school safety, what we can do, not who's at fault here. And that was really for me, a healing way, a way that I felt like I could honor how our Heavenly Father operates as well by carrying that spirit with me and by having a proactive, positive, action oriented response, I felt like I would be able to honor my faith, honor my background and be true to who I was rather than participating in the blame game.

Morgan Jones Pearson 40:11

For sure. You mentioned that you helped found a non-profit called Safe and Sound Schools. And that was something that I felt like you were able to kind of pour yourself into and in return find healing. And you're no longer doing this, from what I understand, but during that time that you were going around and teaching, what do you feel like were the most important things you all taught through Safe and Sound Schools, what would be the most important things for our listeners to hear?

Alissa Parker 40:46

Yeah, and I'm really proud of the organization, they're still putting out incredibly good information. I have since, I call it retired from the organization, I don't like to say quit or left, because I'm still very close to them and follow what they do. And we keep updated. But for me, it was time for me to start a new chapter. But I felt at the time that that was what—I couldn't stop thinking about it, I felt called to action because it kept me up at night. And I, I just felt compelled and this compulsive feeling to want to share what we have learned because there was a lot of lessons that were learned from our experience that I wanted to share with other communities. And then it kind of snowballed from there where we just started to build this amazing community of the folks that were doing it right in the school safety world. And as a result of that we have done national summits, spoke, you know, all over the country internationally gone and shared our story and are experiencing this tragic loss, that there were a lot of really important things that people can learn and do to take active steps to making sure things like this don't happen in their school. And so it's really a collective approach. It's not a one and done, let's do this one thing to fix it. But it's really understanding the whole process involved in school safety. And for those who are listening, that want to know how to get started, if you go to their website, safe and sound schools stop, or there's a whole lot of really good information for everyone, for students, or parents, teachers, administrators, there's something there for everyone. And there are many levels of ways to get involved and to ensure that your schools are safer. And whatever commitment level you have to offer, there's something there for you. And so that was a really healing process for me just to be able to use our story to really create a new standard amongst schools. As soon as this pandemic hit and kids were isolated, I immediately just felt so sad, not just for the kids that were going through that but I knew that there were going to be long term repercussions on the mental health of a lot of these kids, because one of the things that we've learned in school safety is how much isolation and being left alone or in a situation where you might be in a home that's just not healthy, how much that can affect a child in a negative way and I feared that after we were kind of came out of this isolation, that there will be a lot of depression, suicide school shootings as a result, like an increase in that. And that, unfortunately, is what we're seeing right now. And I think that's a reflection of lot of a lot of the waves as a result of of this and how important it is to get mental health professionals involved with our children and making sure that they they are healthy because this stuff is really heavy and really hard for our kids. And I think it's really important that we're there for them.

Morgan Jones Pearson 44:12

So well said. Thank you so much. The morning of the shooting at Sandy Hook. Emilie climbed into bed with you and said everything is connected. Can you see it? Can you see how everything is connected? Mom? I wondered how have you seen, in the nearly 10 years sinse, that everything really is connected?

Alissa Parker 44:35

I think that the thread that connects all of us is love and that love comes from our Savior and those connections. The plan of salvation is the most beautiful and incredible gift our Heavenly Father has ever given us allows us to stay connected and to be a part of each other's lives. One of the tools that He uses to build a lot of this connection is through storytelling, we see that in the scriptures, we see that when we have general conference, we see that in church fast and testimony meetings. It is an incredibly powerful way that we can connect with other people by sharing our stories. And I think that I have to be, I'm often very thoughtful about where I share my story and how I share it because I am very particular and being able to express my faith, as you mentioned, because I think it's an integral part of my story, that that those connections, the way that He uses us to support one another, we're not left on this journey alone, that those promptings that we receive to say something, to do something for someone else, is an answer to that person's prayers, whether they knew it or not. And it's so beautiful how He is there to support each of us in ways that we can't even anticipate. And I think if if I learned anything from this experience is how many creative ways He can answer our prayers in the most unexpected ways. And that it is challenging, it does challenge us sometimes. But stepping outside of our comfort zones often yields a blessing tenfold, from what we had expected. And that's not to say all this came easy, I have had endless amounts of therapy, endless amounts of help, of work that I have had to do that I have had to seek, I have felt lonely, I have felt depressed, I have felt anxious, I've felt all of those same feelings. And it's not that any of this has been easy. But those blessings are there. And that guidance is always there for me. And that is the way I still feel connected. That is the way that we are all connected. We are all those angels for each other.

Morgan Jones Pearson 47:15

I think that it's easy to look at this recent string of tragedies and like you said, I love the connection that you made to the isolation. To be honest, I remember thinking that during quarantine, but I hadn't really thought about it recently. And I'm sure you're absolutely right. But I wonder what would you hope is the connection that we take or make from this recent string of tragedies?

Alissa Parker 47:49

I think for me, the call to action is always what can I do? And that varies from person to person. And I think that when we're in tune with the Spirit, and we are thoughtful and ponder, what can I do? We'll get that answer. And that answer might be uncomfortable. That answer might make you feel a little nervous or uncomfortable. You know what those steps look like? And maybe you don't know how to do that. But I think the most important thing, anytime we're faced with those things, just like Terri Turley said, you know, I'm in a position to serve. So when you see a tragic event like that, I think it's really important to ask, Am I in a position to serve? And what does that service look like? What is it that I can do? Because it doesn't serve us well to join that fight. Maybe what you can do is write a letter, maybe what you can do is approach your school and say, How can I help? What do you need? What can I do to make this better? Maybe it's just supporting someone who's going through a difficult time. Whatever it is, I have a firm testimony that if we are able to ponder and ask that question, "what can I do?" that we'll get the answer, and we'll know what to do. But I feel like, you know, doing nothing is where we fall short. And I think we're a people of action. And that should be no different than how we respond to anything in our lives. It should always be what can we do?

Morgan Jones Pearson 49:30

I completely agree. Thank you very, very much. Alissa, thank you so much for for being willing to have this conversation. My last question for you is the question that we ask at the end of every episode of this podcast, and that is what does it mean to you to be all in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Alissa Parker 49:52

I had the opportunity to speak at Time Out For Women for three years. And there was this one, talk that John Bytheway gave and I had heard it several times, because, you know, we had spoken at a few different locations. And he had given this talk to the women in the church, but also the youth of the church. But he had this one moment where he talks about pieces not fitting in the puzzle of life. There are things, questions that we have that we don't know the answers to, and that piece just doesn't fit. And that it's tempting when those things don't fit, to feel frustrated and to feel like, why am I here? Why am I doing this? I can't make sense of all of this. And he said, When a piece doesn't fit, we don't just throw the whole puzzle and say, I want nothing to do with this puzzle. And I'm done with it. You set that piece aside, and you just keep working, you keep going. And that really was such a beautiful illustration of whhat I think all in is right? When we're all in, pieces aren't going to always make sense. We're not always going to know the answers. Those pieces don't just magically appear and make sense and we have to keep going. We put those aside, we keep going until the moment where the puzzle comes together. And that piece all of a sudden does make sense. I think there's a lot of heartache, beauty, trial and error that occurs in our lives, and to be all in is to keep going and to keep having faith that those pieces will eventually make sense. And it might not be in this life, it might be in the life to come that we finally get all those pieces to fit. But that's how I interpret all in in the Gospel as far as how it relates to my life.

Morgan Jones Pearson 51:54

Thank you so much, Alissa, thank you for being such a bright light and an example of faith. I think that you have been such a great ambassador for the Church in light of a really terrible way of being brought into that. So thank you very much for being such a great example.

Alissa Parker 52:18

Well, thank you and thank you for giving me the opportunity to come on your show.

Morgan Jones Pearson 52:24

We are so grateful to Alissa Parker for joining us on today's episode, you can find Alissa's book, An Unseen Angel, on DeseretBook.com. Huge thanks to Derek Campbell of Mix At Six Studios for his help with this episode. And thank you so much for spending your valuable time each week with us. We'll look forward to being with you again next week.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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