"He Has Become Our Light": Oprah Talks to the Wheelers
David: Ben was full of energy—there was nothing on his dial between 1 and 11. He would wake up in the morning at full speed, and he stayed at full speed until he finally decided to close his eyes and hit the pillow. It was astonishing. I've seen him fall asleep midsentence.
Francine: It's true. I don't think you could meet someone who loved life more than Ben. My father always said, "Ben lives ten years for every year."
David: You always knew when Ben was around. If there was a conversation happening and he had something to say, he would pitch his voice higher and louder than everybody else's in the room, so he could be heard. And if for some reason he felt you weren't paying close enough attention, he would put his hands on either side of your face and turn your head till you were looking directly at him.
Francine: Ben was incredibly smart. And he loved lighthouses. They were his favorite things in the world.
David: Oh, yes.
Francine: Since the tragedy, I've asked myself, Did God set that up? Did he purposely show Ben lighthouses early on? Because think of what a lighthouse does: It shows the light so that we can find our way. Now Benny has become our light.
Oprah: Let's talk about the morning of December 14, 2012. Was it just an ordinary Friday morning for your family?
Francine: It was. And it wasn't. We had forgotten that Nate had book club at 8 in the morning, which meant I had to drive him to school early. So I said, "All right, guys, we've got to hurry up and get the dishes in the dishwasher because I've got to get Nate to school." I asked Ben, "Do you want me to drive you back home to catch the bus, or do you want to go get a treat with me at Starbucks?" Of course, he said get a treat. But before we left, as we were rushing to load the dishwasher, Ben asked, out of the blue, "Hey, Mom, what does forgiveness mean?" And I said, "Well, it's kind of like when somebody does something wrong to you, and you forget about it." He just said, "Oh," and that was it. I didn't think anything more about it.
Later, as we sat in Starbucks, Ben said, "Mama, I'm going to be an architect." I said, "That's great!" And then he said, "But I have to be a paleontologist, too." "Why?" "Because Nate is going to be a paleontologist, and I have to do everything Nate does."
Francine: I told him: "You know, you're your own person. You don't have to do what Nate does." He said, "No, I want to." As we sat there, I told him, "It's so nice to be with you, Ben."
After he died, I started to question if that conversation was as special as I remembered it. I began to think maybe I had made it up. But then I was at a Sandy Hook function about a month later—it was the first time I was out publicly among our friends—and this woman came up to me and said: "Excuse me. I work at the school, and I was at Starbucks the morning you were there with Ben. I'm not in the business of listening to people's conversations, but I happened to hear what a beautiful conversation you had with your son that day, and I feel like I just had to tell you that." So it really happened.
Oprah: A stranger just comes up to you and tells you this?
Francine: [Nodding] I have a notebook filled with experiences like that. I've been writing them down.
Oprah: All the strange things that have occurred since that day.
David: A friend of ours calls them "postcards." She says she still gets postcards from her grandfather who passed away years ago.
Oprah: So you mean messages. Messages from Ben.
Next: What it means to forgive