The last time Scarlett Lewis saw her son, Jesse, he was scribbling "I love you" on the frosty window of her car. She grabbed her phone to take a picture, not knowing it would be the last picture she ever took of the six-year-old.
Later that morning, Jesse was one of 20 children and six adults shot to death at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
A year after the tragedy, Scarlett Lewis has just published a book, "Nurturing, Healing, Love," about how she has tried to heal.
Lewis says her son was "the perfect dichotomy" of an exuberant little boy and her little "cuddle bug" who still inspires her every day.
"I don't use the past tense because I feel him all around me. He is an incredible light," she told CTV's Canada AM from New York.
Jesse was also a hero, Lewis says, because the morning he died, his last act was to try to save others.
When the gunman, Adam Lanza, walked into Jesse's class, he killed Jesse's beloved teacher Victoria Sotto first. Then, his gun jammed. According to children who survived that day, Jesse yelled for his classmates on the other side of the room to run. While six kids escaped, Jesse stayed put. Lanza reloaded his gun and shot Jesse in the forehead.
While Lewis says she wishes more than anything that Jesse had run too, she takes comfort in knowing that her son helped some of his classmates survive.
"They said it was because Jesse yelled that they ran," she says.
For Lewis, mornings are still the hardest and so she takes 15 minutes every morning just to grieve. She goes to her son's tombstone, says a prayer, thanks him, and allows herself to cry. She also tells Jesse, once again, that she's sorry – sorry for what happened, and for any pain or suffering he went through.
"It's what every parent would feel," she explained. "You send your child off to school; it's your job to keep them safe. And I know that it's not really logical, that there was nothing I could do. But still, I sent him off to school and he died."
Lewis and her older son J.T. say they have learned to forgive Lanza for what he did and no longer feel anger toward him.
"For me, it was the only way I could go on with my personal power intact," Lewis explains.
Not long after the massacre, Lewis’ therapist put her in virtual touch with a group of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. It was through them that Lewis says she learned to forgive.
"These young adults had seen their entire families murdered in front of them," she says. "They said, 'We want you to know we've been through this. We know you're going to be okay. Here's our equation for healing.' And it was basically living a life of gratitude, forgiving those who had murdered their families, and making a conscious decision to do that so they could move on without anger in themselves. And service to others. Because when you give to others you get so much more back."
Lewis and her son took that message to heart, she says, and made the decision to forgive, using the Rwandans' experience as perspective.
"If they could forgive the neighbours who came in and murdered their families, then we could forgive Adam Lanza," she says.
Lewis has now created the Jesse Lewis Choose Love Foundation, to develop programs to teach children that they have the power to change thoughts and choose a life without hate.
Her son J.T. has also been fundraising for the Rwandan survivors and has raised enough so far to send one of them to college.
"His decision to do that has been so incredibly healing," Lewis says. "And I've just watched him, over the past year, turn into this incredibly compassionate person and I couldn't be more proud of him."