By 9, maybe 9:30 p.m., Grace listened to her mom's boyfriend read a holiday classic, Dr. Seuss's How the Grinch Stole Christmas! Then she went to bed in her pink and white room while her sisters Lily, 9, and Sarah, 7, went to bed in their own pink and white room.
Those were the final memories their mother, Madonna Badger, recalled on Thursday's Today show – the moments before tragedy struck last Christmas when a Stamford, Conn., house fire killed her three little girls and her parents.
With tears in her eyes, Badger remembered the moments that followed. With her children asleep upstairs, she wrapped presents with Michael Borcina, her boyfriend. He swept the ashes off the hearth and put them into a brown bag in the mudroom after sifting through them with his hands to make sure they weren't on fire.
"I remember thinking to myself, 'I should put that [bag] outside,' " she said. "And then I remember thinking, 'No, I watched him put his hands through it.' "
They ate a piece of apple pie, and then they went to bed, too.
The 'Blackest' SmokeWhen Badger woke up, she was choking. "I realized there was a fire," she said.
She crawled out the window onto the wrap-around porch.
"I had to make a decision," she said. "There were my mom and dad's windows – do I go in and save them? Or do I go save my children?"
So she ran to the other side of the house, where hours earlier, she had tucked in her little girls. She opened Grace's window.
"The smoke that hit me was just the blackest," she recalled. "Like an ocean was twirling, and there were embers and all kinds of stuff in it, and I kept trying to hold my breath and put my head in."
But she couldn't get in to save her children, she said, so she screamed.
Her boyfriend was running around the house, his eyes burnt shut. "Jump to me, jump to me girls," he yelled, Badger said. "Where are you?"
Honoring Her ChildrenThe firemen dragged Badger off her porch, and she was taken to the hospital with Borcina. Three hours later, the doctors gave her the news: her three children and parents had perished in the fire.
"I couldn't believe it," she said. She called her daughters's father, Matthew Badger, who spoke to PEOPLE last week about coping with their deaths.
Today, their spirits live on through the Lily Sarah Grace Fund, which Michael Badger created to bring arts to underfunded public schools in their honor. Thursday, Whoopi Goldberg will host a Broadway benefit for the nonprofit.
The family continues to heal.
"The first time I smiled or the first time I laughed," Badger said on Today. "I felt so bad."