52. Victory Over Death

52. Victory Over Death

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Victory Over Death

Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future.

~Paul Boese

The phone rang. And then came the words pouring from my mother’s mouth that no one ever wants or expects to hear: “They think she’s dead.”

Sometimes life throws something so big at you that time stands still for months. When you finally remember to look up, you sincerely wonder how the rest of the world has just kept going as if this life-altering event never occurred.

Something so traumatic that it changes how you keep time. All other events are now remembered as “before” or “after” it happened.

My sister. My eighteen-year-old fiercely compassionate, justice-loving, blond, blue-eyed, too-smart-for-her-own-good, picks-dandelions-for-her-niece’s-hair, beautifully flawed little sister. Gone?

The information slowly came in as the homicide detectives made progress with their case. We were warned to stay away from the news for our own emotional health, but morbid curiosity drew me to the screen and the papers day after day. The news didn’t sugarcoat things the way the detectives or my parents did.

He killed her. We’d known him since he was a boy — quiet, sweet, respectful. We’d played hide-and-seek together. We trusted him with her. And he killed her.

After it happened, I couldn’t stand the color red because it reminded me of blood. I hated the dark and the night. I only slept during the day.

I wouldn’t leave the house at all, unless it was to go to court or the police station.

Once I was finally able to leave the house, I would drive miles out of my way to avoid having to drive by the place where it happened.

“Time heals all things” felt like a lie.

We were faced with a never-ending stream of flowers, cards, phone calls, doorbells, and casseroles in dishes we’d have to return. Relatives and strangers took over our home, cleaning, answering phones, asking questions, crying with us.

Well-meaning people would say they “understood,” as if they ever could. And then as if to prove it, they’d tell their own terrible story. Or worse, they’d offer the advice of “moving on” or “getting past this.”

My favorite people were the quiet ones. The ones who let me remember my sister for who she really was. My opinionated, creative, annoying little sister, whose small frame somehow housed a strong, bold personality that so often got on my nerves.

I realized that there were a few people who actually could understand. They’d stood in the exact same spot I was in, and they’d somehow come out the other side. Forever altered, but alive, offering hope that I would survive this, too.

I was once asked if time really does heal all things. I didn’t know how to answer — how to offer hope and honesty in the same sentence. I finally answered, “Time changes things.”

You may never feel fully healed, but you won’t always feel so raw. You never get over it. And every loss after that seems to compound on top of that one big one.

You feel like you’ll never be okay again. The “okay” you’re expecting belongs to the person you were before it happened. But there is a new normal, a new “okay” ahead for the person you are now.

And you will find it.

One day you’ll be surprised to discover that you’ve learned to breathe again.

I remember one day realizing that I hadn’t thought about her at all for an entire day. I felt confused and guilty, like I had inadvertently betrayed my beloved sister.

But I could not go on living in the past, wishing things were different. I would not create a culture of sorrow and festering agony and make my children suffer the immeasurable loss and horror along with me. She was an aunt they would never remember and I would not allow generational trauma to rob my children of their joy.

But this loss was two-fold. I had the death of my sister to face. And I had her killer to face.

The sweet, shy boy we’d known since he was a child turned out to be a cold-blooded murderer. I could let the parasite of hate and bitterness crush my spirit and poison my future . . . or I could face it head on.

How do you face a killer after he’s been sentenced and sent to prison?

The turning point for my healing was in the scariest F word I’ve ever encountered: Forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not a feeling that just happens one day. It’s not forgetting what’s been done, or excusing it. In fact, forgiving is the opposite of excusing. The fact that forgiveness is necessary means that what happened was inexcusable.

Forgiveness is letting go of my need for revenge. It’s refusing to allow anger, bitterness, and hatred to rule my life. It’s a very deliberate decision. One I’ve had to make several times for the same offense. One I expect I’ll have to make several more times over the course of my life for this one terrible crime.

It’s been ten years now, and I still find unforgiveness in my heart. It’s been ten years and I still miss my sister. I wish she were here to know my husband and children. But I can’t live my life in the past, thinking of what might have been.

It’s okay that I miss her.

It’s okay that I sometimes go for days without thinking of her.

It’s also okay that I remember.

It’s okay that I talk about her and about what happened. And it’s okay that I’m still heartbroken. But it’s also okay that I’m happy. It’s okay that I live.

~Genevieve C. West

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