Today, I attended and spoke at the Survivors of Violent Loss Holiday Memorial in San Diego. This event is always a bittersweet gathering, because the people in attendance have all lost a loved one—child, parent, sibling, niece/nephew, or dear friend—to violence, and in most cases murder or suspected murder.
However, we do not do this to express outrage at the injustice of the deaths of our loved ones; we get together as a show of support to others who have become members of this club we never asked to join and to celebrate the lives of our loved ones. We share the stories of how they lived, laughed and loved before they were taken from us in a willful act of violence.
Yes, we smile and share stories and laugh. Because that’s the only way to keep on living and coping with a situation that could easily leave us despondent and living lives of despair. Many of also become involved in activities and programs to help others, and to give greater meaning and fulfillment to our lives.
Coincidentally, this memorial occurred on the first anniversary of the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where a gunman killed 20 children and six educators. In addition to hanging on the tree our own ornaments memorializing our loved ones, we hung 26 additional ornaments to honor those killed in Newtown.
My heart weeps for these Newtown families and their community, but let’s not lose sight of the big picture. In the year since, there have been school shootings every two weeks; in 2012, seventy-one young children were killed by deliberate gunfire.
In addition, while mass killings dominate the news and capture our interest due to their sheer enormity, violent death is not limited to such events. In the United States alone, roughly 15,000 Americans are murdered annually—on average, 41 per day—according to government agencies. Deaths due to violence—including manslaughter and suicide—increase that number substantially.
Many U.S. citizens like to call the USA the greatest nation on Earth. Aside from the hubris of such a statement, I don’t see any reason to brag about these statistics. These stats are an embarrassment; they should be reason for pause, reflection and reasoned conversation, and result in action free from self-serving political agendas.
So this holiday season—which for many is not the joyous occasion we believe it should be—let’s move beyond the sensational headlines and give some thought to survivors of violent loss, whose lives are forever changed by the trauma of violent death, and who often suffer from severe depression, substance abuse and suicide.
For my part, I am gratified to know that my book, Dare I Call It Murder?: A Memoir of Violent Loss, is helping others deal with their losses. At the memorial today, I read a comment I recently received from a reader:
Mr. Edwards, I came across your fantastic book while looking for support for my stepdaughters who lost their mother to murder. They are not ready to read it. But it was great on many levels. . . . It helped me prepare for the road our family has ahead . . . and will be a tremendous help for families of victims as they process frustrations and the inevitable PTSD. Thank you!
This is a common theme I hear from many readers, and it’s one of the nicest gifts I could receive at this time of year. The fact that my book is helping others deal with their tragedies is reward enough for having written this book. People are getting the message about violent loss and what happens to the survivors, the living victims. It’s nice to know that my book is helping people in ways I never imagined. For that I am grateful.
For my fellow survivors, I leave you with this thought: You are not alone. You are not crazy. There are people willing to help you.
Draw on your resiliencies; draw on your strengths—especially at this time of year. You can get through this. And may you find sparks of joy on the road that lies ahead.
- SVLP Holiday Memorial—KUSI News
- Victims of violence honored at annual memorial—KFMB
- Organization Aims To Help Victims Of Crime Reclaim Their Lives
- Man turns tragedy into program offering promise
- Society’s Challenge: Survivors of Violent Loss
- Survivors of Violent Loss Program
- The School Shootings You Didn’t Hear About—One Every Two Weeks Since Newtown
- Not only Newtown: Beyond that massacre, 71 young children were killed by deliberate gunfire in 2012
- One Year After Sandy Hook: We Owe It to Our Children to Do Everything in Our Power to Prevent Another Tragedy
- Dare I Call It Murder?: A Memoir of Violent Loss