MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
We brought you a story yesterday about Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the long path of her recovery from traumatic brain injury. She was shot in the head last January in Tucson. Her recovery has been remarkable. But as her husband Mark Kelly told us, it's still difficult for her to have conversations.
CAPTAIN MARK KELLY: You know, she struggles. She gets frustrated. I have to remind her that that's a good thing. You know, getting frustrated is - from what I understand - is one of those things that's helped rebuild those connections in her brain.
BLOCK: Well, the other victims of the shooting are also rebuilding their lives. Six people were killed, 13 wounded.
NPR's Ted Robbins visited with two of those who survived and a third who lost a son.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: On the morning of January 8th, Ron Barber was at his boss's Congress on Your Corner event in front of a Safeway in Tucson. A line of people waited to shake Gabby Gifford's hand, maybe get a hug, and to talk with staff like Barber and outreach director Gabe Zimmerman.
That's when Jared Loughner walked up, pulled out a pistol and opened fire.
RON BARBER: I will never forget what I saw that morning. I can't imagine that it would ever leave me because seeing Gabby shot and seeing Gabe die, I mean that - those two images are just seared into my head and they'll never go away.
ROBBINS: Barber was shot in the face and thigh. His face wound has healed, a small scar remains on his cheek above his white goatee. One of his legs is still numb. He still has nightmares from PTSD. In July, he returned to work, half days. As Giffords' congressional district director, Ron Barber is her face in southern Arizona.
BARBER: I do a lot of speaking engagements where I go to an event to accept an award for her, or maybe speak on her behalf. That has definitely ramped up because where she here, she'd be doing a lot of that.
ROBBINS: Giffords' office is busier now than it was before the shooting. It routinely has twice as many constituent cases - veterans needing health care, homeowners needing foreclosure help. Ron Barber says the activity is good for him.
BARBER: It gets better all the time, you know. And being back at work has been a really tremendous help to me.
ROBBINS: One of the staffers who helped most with constituents is no longer here - Gabe Zimmerman. He was trained as a social worker, a good skill set for a congressional outreach director. Above Barber's desk is a photograph of Zimmerman, a constant presence even in his absence.
BARBER: It's bittersweet because on the one hand, every day I'm here I'm reminded that Gabe is not here. And he was my go-to guy. Every day we were together, five or six times a day, working on projects.
ROBBINS: There's another reminder of Gabe Zimmerman and Gabby Giffords' office, Ross Zimmerman, Gabe's father. He was not at the shooting, but ever since he's been coming to the office nearly every day to have lunch.
ROSS ZIMMERMAN: Well, I figure it's good for the people here and I like the people here. Several of them have become my friends.
ROBBINS: It's one way to stay connected with his son, not the way he'd like, but one way.
ZIMMERMAN: I don't like it one little bit. I would do anything to roll all that back. I would do anything to change that. I would trade places in a second.
ROBBINS: Unlike the reflective Ron Barber, Ross Zimmerman is pragmatic about the loss of his 30-year-old son.
ZIMMERMAN: I mean, it's not like there's anything I can do about it. I still have periods fairly regularly where I miss Gabe and get unhappy about it. But, you know, I'm not typical either. I have a very high physical and mental pain tolerance and I adapt and cope better than a lot of people do. So, you know, I got a dead kid. What do I do? I do keep moving forward. That's what Gabe would prefer.
ROBBINS: Ross Zimmerman is working with Giffords' staff on a memorial to the January 8th shooting victims and on a project for the one-year anniversary called Beyond Tucson. Beyond Tucson is focused on getting on the community to interact and to get outdoors, where Gabe liked to be.
(SOUNDBITE OF SHOVELING)
ROBBINS: Suzy Hileman likes to be outdoors to. She is planting black velvet petunias in pots on the back patio of the spacious Southwestern-style home she shares with her husband, Bill.
SUZY HILEMAN: I take these flowers and I put them in and the soil feels good, and it's living and it's going to grow and get bigger and life goes on. And it reminds me that life goes on.
ROBBINS: From her patio, you can look across a desert wash and see other homes in the neighborhood. Nine-year-old Christina Taylor Green lived in one of those houses. She used to help Suzy Hileman in the garden. On January 8th, Hileman took her to meet their Congresswoman.
HILEMAN: Yeah, it was a civics lesson we were doing.
ROBBINS: But shortly after 10 A.M., Suzy and Christina lay on the ground - Christina dead and Hileman wounded by three bullets. Next came chaos, the hospital and 12 weeks on her sofa recovering from a shattered hip. That gave the normally active and upbeat Hileman time to think about what happened, about how her life had changed. She says she's come to a place of relative peace where she can feel sad, yet except the circumstances.
HILEMAN: You hold both pieces at the same time, that's holding the paradox. I'm here, the sun is out, I'm having an interesting conversation doing something that I love. Oh yeah, I remember, January, yeah. It comes and bites you. It jumps up. My friends lost their daughter. I don't know what to do about that. I don't know where to put that. I don't know and I don't know that I ever will. But I can think about it now without sobbing.
ROBBINS: Hileman values her privacy but she's also says her inadvertent celebrity has been helpful.
HILEMAN: Doors are open to me that were not open to me before. I come with a sentimental back story.
ROBBINS: She's the gun something called GRIN, Grandparents In Residence, a program which connects other retired adults with children in classrooms. Helping others, she says, helps heal her own emotional wounds.
HILEMAN: I went into a classroom of 28 five and six year olds, each one of whom read me the story of - telling me how sad they were for me, how wonderful a human being I was. And their reward for reading their stories was to hug me. So I got 28 hugs in half an hour. And now when I feel sad, I call Ms. Silvine(ph) and I say, Bonnie, what time are reading centers?
ROBBINS: Suzy Hileman says since the shooting she gets hugs everywhere, from total strangers. But there's one hug and one handshake she still waiting for, the one from Gabby Giffords. When I told that to Giffords district director Rob Barber, he said she'll get it.
Ted Robbins, NPR News Tucson.