That's why dinner at the table has always been mandatory in the Barden house. For now, that table has been filled with extended family, and Mark is bracing for that to end. "We haven't had to visit the dinner table with just the four of us minus Daniel yet," he said. "I don't know when the time will be right but at some point we'll have to do that."
Mark's music gigs were typically at night, allowing him to spend precious after-school hours at home with the kids. Then late at night, after work, he'd check on them while they slept.
The night of Dec. 13, he crept toward Daniel's bed and watched his youngest son, asleep on his left side, mouth open. "I can remember exactly how I kissed his little cheek," Mark said.
They also want to promote kindness and launched a Facebook page titled "What Would Daniel Do?" at http://www.facebook.com/WhatWouldDanielDo. In addition to tributes to their son — the eulogy that Mr. Wheeler, the school bus driver, delivered at his funeral; a video of the firefighters who heard that Daniel wanted to join their ranks and came by the hundreds to form an honor guard as his hearse drove past — the Bardens use the site to encourage small acts of compassion at the most basic human level.
The page has more than 16,000 likes, and people from throughout the country have posted stories about kind acts performed and discovered: The woman who bought coffee and doughnuts for a firehouse in New York state. The Missouri woman who helped restock a food pantry in Daniel's honor. The Illinois woman who paid for a stranger's meal, writing "Love from Daniel Barden" on the bill.
Starbucks bills have been paid and parking meters fed for the elderly. Quarters have been left in coin-operated washing machines along with notes memorializing Daniel. A woman and her son tucked dollar bills and crayon drawings in children's books at their local library. "I hope in that dollar they see that there is more good in this world than bad, more kindness than greed, more love than hate," the woman wrote.
The Bardens are also distributing pairs of green-and-white bracelets — the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary — with the message "In Memory of Daniel Barden" and the address of the Facebook page. The bracelets come with instructions to wear one after performing an act of kindness, and share the other after telling the recipient to do the same.
"He was such a kind little soul," Jackie said. "We feel we do have to spread that."
Back in their living room, the Bardens are, somehow, bearing the unbearable, leaning gently against each other as they watch a video clip on the Facebook page of a pint-sized Daniel singing "Mr. Sun" during an open-mike session at a local restaurant, then getting a big hug from Natalie and a bigger ovation from the audience.
It is an unforgettable memory from a son who taught them the power of compassion. Now, they want Daniel's power to live on, through simple acts of generosity that multiply from person to person to person.
"I hope that he's remembered," Jackie said, "as the kid that started a wave of kindness."