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“Embracing Life After Trauma”

- Written by Rev. Meghan for National Homicide Awareness Month Nov 20-Dec 20 2019

I am a mother of two beautiful boys. I am also a mother who has lost her 2nd born son as a result of homicide – an intentional act of violence causing the murder of my blue eyed, handsome, adventurous 29 year-old son, Justin. He left a legacy challenging me to live life courageously, and left behind a 5 year-old daughter without a father. That was in 2013 when my journey of embracing grief began, resulting in understanding how grief is now a part of who I am; a journey into discovering how to live a meaningful life that both honors the legacy of my son and intentionally creates a living legacy of my own.

As November 20-December 20 has been proclaimed Homicide Awareness Month, I dedicate this writing to Justin whose 36th birthday will be honored on December 14th. I know I am not alone in living with the impact homicide has on the lives it touches. We see it in the news more often than we can count. It leaves an impact not only on the families left behind to live with the horror of what happened to their loved ones, but also on the millions of people who hear or read about what has happened to so many people in our world on a daily basis. I know how my heart becomes heavy each and every time I experience another news feed about death from acts of violence. It takes me back to the moment I first heard what happened to my son and the pain slams into me once again…

These are the some of the words I wrote for an impact statement at a parole hearing for one of the defendants responsible for my sons death – an investigative and legal process that even after 6.5 years is not fully complete, adding another level of how homicide impacts the lives of the families whose lives are forever changed:

“I am still grieving my son’s loss as if happened yesterday.  There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about him, wish I could hear his voice, see his smile or hold him in my arms…my heart will never stop hurting for his physical presence.  My world has been forever changed…A bright part of my life is forever extinguished.

I have come to realize that the grief I feel will never go away, but become something I just learn to live with.  There are day’s that makes me angry - that I should not have to learn to live with his loss, I should not have to look at his picture and remember I will never see him in the physical reality ever again.  I ache for him every Christmas, every year on his birthday, when I see someone who looks like him, or something that reminds me of him, and on the anniversary of his death I am taken back to the day his brother called and said, ‘Mom Justin is gone, they found his body in the river’, and my heart stopped….”

Those words were shared at the State of Missouri National Victims Awareness Week last April. The Victim Advocate I had been working with asked if she could share my words to help those who could not voice their emotions in a way that let others around them know the impact of what they had experienced. I was beyond grateful it could make a difference to someone struggling with the impact of an act of violence.

I had nightmares for months reliving what the last moments of my son’s life may have been. Each time new information was revealed about the cruel and heartless way his body was found with the attempt to ‘dispose’ of him, the horror returned. I realized I had to learn to compartmentalize the facts from my emotions in order to move forward and function in life. I discovered the value of honoring the special memories I have of Justin and to be grateful they will always live in my heart – to give them more energy and attention then what had happened or in how I long to see and hold him most days.

I have learned to embrace grief as a part of our human experience and honor the value of what feeling deeply can offer us – a new aspect of who we are. When embraced we become stronger and more resilient to the next challenge in life – because stuff will happen. We become more empathetic to the challenges of others and seek to find ways to make a ripple of difference in the world around us. I choose to not focus on what has been ‘taken’ but on what gift remains. And then in realizing I am creating a gift for others by how I choose to live my life now. I practice forgiveness as a way to release any resentment, anger, pain, fear, or unforgiveness toward myself, and others. For unforgiveness depletes my energy and prevents me from being open to new, creative and supportive possibilities in the life I have before me – why would I do that to myself?

In honor of all those who have lost their lives through an act of homicide, we celebrate the legacy of the lives they lived and the gift of their memories we can choose to embrace and emulate because of who they were. We can honor them by choosing to live life more courageously and intentionally knowing we are creating a living legacy as our gift to those who we leave behind.

My son loved Christmas, maybe because he was born ‘just in’ time for Christmas. So I include him each year with my favorite picture from 1st grade in a Christmas stocking ornament I place where I can see it on the tree each year. I see his smiling little face knowing he is with me always – in my heart and in every memory he blessed us with in his short life. Find a way to include your loved one too, knowing the tears will fall and feelings will be vulnerable, but that is the blessing in loving someone so much that their memories continue to bless you year after year.

Homicide is something that can tear us apart if we let it. Let us not give into the overwhelming grief it causes, but find a way to embrace, heal and move forward with meaning and purpose in honor of those taken but not forgotten. Much love to each of you this holiday season. Let the blessings offered be accepted and cherished with every year to come!

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