68: All Things Possible

68: All Things Possible

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

All Things Possible

To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you.

~Author Unknown

I was sitting on my front porch on a beautiful, warm spring day. My life was about to change in a radical and traumatic way. I was flanked by two homicide detectives who delivered unwelcome news in a matter-of-fact fashion. They informed me that my brother Dave had been killed by police to put an end to his shooting rampage at a shopping mall just a few minutes drive from my home.

Even though I wasn’t completely surprised, I felt like I had been dropkicked to another planet. The officers were asking me questions and my brain didn’t want to work. I asked them to give me a moment, closed my eyes, and simply prayed, “Lord, help me get through this.” Then I opened my eyes and calmly gave them the answers they were seeking in order to piece together the awful story.

Dave’s life had been coming unwound for several years. It included a job-related back injury, addiction to painkillers, alcoholism and subsequent job loss, along with the traumatic removal of our mother from the home he shared with her due to her advancing Alzheimer’s disease. He began isolating himself, not paying bills and, at one point, essentially camping in his house after the utilities were shut off. Then he ran out of food and alcohol.

I tried to help him; I got him food and turned his utilities back on and drove him around for job interviews, all the while believing that he would spend his first paycheck on alcohol anyway. He got a job as a security guard at a store in the mall where he ultimately did the shooting. As I feared, his drinking resumed after the first paycheck. I tried to talk to him about it, but as soon as he realized where I was heading, he became explosively angry. This is when I became aware of just how mentally compromised and potentially dangerous he was.

I did all sorts of things in preparation, in case Dave reached out for the kind of help he really needed. I went to Al-Anon meetings, researched treatment centers, read books on how to help alcoholics recover and even talked with recovering alcoholics at my church.

I came to realize that I was safe with Dave only when he hadn’t been drinking. For my own safety I had to stay away from him when there was any possibility he was under the influence of alcohol, as it turned him mean, menacing and volatile.

I started sleeping with my head at the foot of the bed, concerned that he might try to shoot me through my bedroom window. I reasoned, “better my feet than my head.”

I was anticipating him acting out against me but certainly didn’t foresee what he actually did. Even so, I knew immediately why he went to the mall, guns blazing; he was committing suicide by policeman’s bullet.

I answered the officer’s questions; they took all the information and left. And I was left with an avalanche of thoughts, emotions, confusion and work to do. David’s disease had cost four lives, including his own. One thing I knew — somehow, someway it had to be possible for something good to come of this.

The next afternoon, I stood in front of my church in the shadow of the steel cross with my pastor, my daughter and son-in-law by my side. I was facing a huge bank of microphones and an equally huge group of reporters with cameras. I spoke of Dave’s condition and I offered condolences and an apology; I knew that it would do little to ease the pain, but I felt compelled to do at least that.

The mother of a young woman killed that day was watching the press conference and, somehow, it started some healing in her. Several months later she called my pastor and requested a meeting with me. We met in the pastor’s office, hugged, cried, talked and ended up going to the site of the shooting together. In an ocean of cars in the mall lot, the space where Carolee’s daughter, Leslie, drew her last breath was empty. We moved into that place and stood there holding each other, crying.

Later, over coffee, I heard the same determined sentiment from Carolee that I had uttered. It had to be possible to make something good come of this.

Over the weeks following our meeting we experienced a comforting, growing friendship. We started brainstorming about what we could do but nothing really jelled right away. Then it started coming together. We began getting requests to speak about the power of forgiveness. We weren’t at all sure this was possible for us at first. Surely God could find some other good to bring forth from the tragedy. Neither of us was experienced at public speaking, but God kept bringing forth the opportunities and we couldn’t refuse to share our testimony. It started small, with just the two of us and a TV reporter and cameraman in the comfort of my home. Then it moved to speaking before various groups at my church, which Carolee had started attending with me. The size of the groups grew larger and so did our confidence. Then one day we were guests on a live radio show.

When the mother of a slain daughter and the sister of the killer stood together and spoke of the importance and power of forgiveness, it had an impact. In the process of sharing our pain and efforts to heal, Carolee and I grew to a place of peace and joy together.

In addition to speaking on healing and forgiveness with Carolee, I’ve been blessed with an additional opportunity to share about God’s healing after trauma. I’ve been leading the grief recovery ministry at my church and at a residential rescue mission. I continue to see the turnaround God brings forth through the mourning of the loss and the forgiving. I get to see people moving back to a place of joy.

I have learned many “impossible” things are, indeed, possible.

~Kathryn D. Cagg

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