The images of Newtown are haunting, certain moments indelibly etched.
For me, two stand out and frequently return, often in the quiet of the night.
There is the governor of Connecticut gathering families in a room at the Sandy Hook firehouse.
He tells the moms and dads who have been frantically searching the streets, hoping against hope, to stop believing. If their children have not come to them yet, they won't be. There are no more.
And then there is the picture of one father taking a car seat from inside his vehicle and placing it in the trunk, a conscious and palpable understanding that its only purpose now is to serve as a reminder.
You take a deep breath, but exhaling comes with a price. You try to imagine their pain, but it's unfathomable. You cry for the parents, you weep for young lives ended, the most precious of tiny dreams unfulfilled.
You look at your own children and try to maintain composure, knowing how fragile it all is, how life is often the random flip of a coin.
It is Christmas, and on this day there are wrapped presents sitting under a tree, presents that were bought weeks ago, presents that will never be opened.
We can be forgiven for not remembering during every minute of every day that each breath is fleeting, that tomorrow is promised to no one. Life is hard for most people, and perspective is not always at an arm's length.
But there are always reminders, and sports saw its share of such heartbreak this year.
Andy Reid has struggled for years with his two oldest sons, who have been unable to overcome drug problems. Garrett Reid, 29, died in August of a heroin overdose. I am amazed that through all the tumult, Andy Reid has always been able to go back and coach the Eagles.
Kevin McHale returned to the Rockets' bench a couple of weeks ago, after taking time off to be at his daughter's bedside — as she was dying of complications due to lupus.
Sasha McHale was 23 and said to be a spectacular young woman who fought the disease her entire life, brave until the very end and still talking about what she might accomplish next.
When the Chiefs' Jovan Belcher ended the lives of his girlfriend and himself, he robbed 3-month old Zoey of a life with her parents. I think about the chance that child has for something resembling normalcy.
Oakland reliever Pat Neshek and his wife lost their son 23 hours after his birth. Neshek pitched in a playoff game two nights later, did his job well, returned to the dugout and put his face in his hands.
I can't imagine how he was able to do it, but people do it every day, somehow putting one foot in front of the other, waiting for the day they may wake up without pain.
Those around them admire their strength, but friends get on with their lives, unaware that the agony weighs like a broken trestle, a bridge suspended only by love and memory. For those suffering the loss of a child, there is only life before it happened, and life after.
And then there is former Bear Greg Olsen and wife, Kara, who gave birth to twins in October. Two days later, one of the babies was having surgery to correct a condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which is marked by an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta.
But this story has a happy ending. Little T.J. Olsen came home from the hospital last month, and while he faces more surgeries in the years to come, the Olsens are optimistic.
“It gives you a crash course in reality,” Olsen told the Philadelphia Daily News a few days ago. “T.J. was born on a Tuesday and first thing Thursday morning he's having open-heart surgery. It flips the world upside down on you and makes you appreciate what you have.
“T.J. is a twin, and he's only 2 months old now, not doing a whole lot. But you see the two of them, T.J. and his sister, next to each other, and you would have no idea.
“Aside from the big scar down his chest, you wouldn't know anything was wrong with him. It's still a disease that can take a life. But everything, thank God, is going well.”
For those suffering today, there is a hole in the heart that no surgeon can repair, an emptiness that no Christmas meal can fill. It is a pain that reaches to the deepest recesses of the mind and soul, and it is for eternity.
I'm certain only that I'm certain of nothing, but we accept that the Olsens are among the very fortunate this holiday season, as are many of us.
So today we hug our own, so grateful for what we have.
And remembering in our thoughts those who will never get the chance to hug again.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.