Domestic violence rudely entered our lives on July 19, 2007. Today, you would be 40, having had your birthday just two months ago. Eleven years ago, I hope I called you on your birthday. Ten years ago, I didn’t know that would be the last birthday you would celebrate. Eleven years ago, on July 20, I became educated on the reach of domestic violence.
A year ago, I spent the day with a new friend. She’s a PR professional expanding her local reach. The day ended with a light dinner at her sponsored table for an event. The event was “Roots of Resilience”, the annual fundraiser for SAFE of Columbia County.
Before that fateful day, I knew of domestic violence in abstract terms. I remember an SNL skit that laughed at Bill and Hillary’s relationship, suggesting that he was the victim. (1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have been victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime. ) I knew of domestic violence with other bad jokes of men in “wife beater” tank tops, the illusion that only uneducated, poor, white men are the perpetrators of abuse. The truth is grayer. The truth shows us that domestic violence crosses all demographics: race, socio-economic, education. Though poor economies can raise the effects of abuse, economics is not a cause of domestic violence.
The Wheel of Power and Control
When I got home from your funeral, I spent a little time educating myself on domestic violence. Learning some of the harsh truths and taking the time to understand patterns of control. In a sense, I find I am hypersensitive to language when I hear things that sound like controlling behavior. I found this widely shared image that helped put things in perspective for me. I wish I had known about it before you died. Maybe we could have had a conversation about what you needed to feel safe in your relationships.
Help Us Really Hear
One of the reasons I think we didn’t talk about all those things is that the busy-ness of our lives – we let it get in the way. We don’t listen to each other. We don’t really hear each other. We allow bad behavior to be swept under the rug instead of standing up to abuses and intolerance. We all have our own lives to lead and live, after all.
In honor of the 1 and 3 women and 1 and 4 men, I encourage you to stand up to oppression far and wide. Start saying, “NO!” You will not tolerate that racist slur, that minimization, that gas lighting. It’s not right, it’s hurtful, and it doesn’t help those we love.
This post was started on May 13, 2017. That would have been Cristi’s 39th birthday. At the time of publishing, we both would be in our 5th decade. I will celebrate the lessons I’ve been gifted through this grief and awareness.
My son’s age is a constant reminder of how long I’ve been without my sister, Cristi. This year, he turned ten. This year is the tenth year of her not being here. This day is the tenth year of her not being there, though we found out ten years ago tomorrow.
Every time I think about this, I think about an image of a 29-year-old woman on the brink of blowing up her career (for good), touching all the lives of the students she worked with, and the laughter she brought to my family. Forever frozen in time, and now we only have her memory to hang on to.
We are back, traveling again, celebrating family, sites, and death. Two of the deaths we are going to celebrate are the lives of my grandparents, my maternal grandmother, and grandfather. We will have a memorial around the family farm, celebrating their lives, their legacy. At the same time, our immediate family will hold tight to the memory of our sister, daughter, friend, who died ten years ago, much too soon.
In the midst of this intimate memorial will be nearly 4 generations of people. People who wouldn’t be here or have come together without my grandparents. And, then, of course, there will be the people who couldn’t make it. Maybe it was money or time, or in the case of Cristi, maybe it was because a life was taken too soon. We will celebrate. We may cry. We will share stories. We will laugh.
Then, we will depart and go back to our regularly scheduled lives. Some of our travels will take us to exciting new adventures. Some of our adventures will take us to the normal routines of daily life. Wake up, go to work, go to school, get dressed, eat a meal. We go on living while the dead do what dead people do according to your respective beliefs.
I was raised in the Catholic church. My husband and I are raising our son with Christian (Protestant) – Catholic views. Yet, I hope for an afterlife that is kinder and more loving than that which these religions preach. I dream of an afterlife where our loved ones are walking with us, guiding us, our guardian angels. I dream of an afterlife where we’ve made pacts with each other, and we are each others soul mates. Where we are learning some spiritual lesson, every day, and we have the support of those around us. There is no accident when it comes to where we are.
In this moment, I am writing this at a yummy café near where my mother’s new job is. Near where high school friends are employed and helped me with certain esthetician tasks. Near where I’m meeting another old friend for lunch. Near where I’ll meet up with my family at a beloved fabric store (that happens to be having a tent sale today). None of these things happened the way I envisioned. And, it’s all working out perfectly. I will take this sign on this tenth anniversary of my sister’s death that no matter the heartache we’ve had or is to come, everything is unfolding as it should.
I write about Domestic Violence from a family member’s point of view. I was shocked to learn my sister’s death fell under domestic violence. I think we are aware, as a society, of the horrors one can face when in a controlling relationship. However, since this is one segment of violence that crosses all boundaries, I really don’t think we can say enough about the subject. So, today, I will share the Wheel of Power & Control. I was directed to this image, shortly after Cristi’s death, four years ago. Read it. Ponder it. Learn to understand it. Then, if you can identify yourself in any of the roles — change your behavior. Change the way you think about the world. Remember, we all deserve respect. We each have as much right to be here as the next person. Our individual rights do not include controlling others.
“What’s wrong?” I ask my friend who has a very intense look on her face.
“Oh, just deep in thought,” she answered.
I must have asked again, although so much conversation has happened since, I can’t recall the beginning, because she tells me that her friend’s mom is in a controlling relationship.
I found it a sad, ironic reminder, that on this day, this four year anniversary, I am reminded of Domestic Violence‘s far-reaching hand. In making sense of the senseless, the main thing I have to learn from Cristi’s death is that Domestic Violence reaches across all social strati we create. I have a duty to educate people on this fact. I have a duty to help mitigate others from going through this pain that has shaken my family. This is preventable death through intimate relationships. That is, the more we share honestly, the less Domestic Violence has to affect us. The more empathy we trade, the more honest conversations we have about our real feelings, the less we have to be controlled by others. The less others will have the opportunity to control us because through these empathic relationships, we will realize our own self worth.
It was too much of a coincidence to remain silent. I am convinced the thing I have learned from my sister dying was that I have a responsibility to tell her story. The more my friend explained the situation with things like her mom being forbidden to attend her daughter’s wedding, my gut said, “Tell her.” So, I did.
Cristi was an amazing individual. She was an honors student, an accomplished athlete, a compassionate teacher, and a dedicated coach. Graduating college, she had an award gifted, in its initiation, in her honor. She was a super star in her own right, yet she didn’t value herself this way. She repeated relationships where her male partner belittled her and made her feel less of the wonderful person she was. Including that award night in 2000 where she was made to feel guilty for getting this high honor and her then partner couldn’t find a meal for himself while we waited.
I see the connection through the relationships she participated in where the man was often controlling and belittling to her. It ended by the hand of a man with a Masters in Education. Someone, who by other lenses is considered good and valuable by society’s standards. What does this mean? It emphasizes the point that Domestic Violence happens to the educated as well as the less educated. Domestic Violence makes victims of rich, poor, black and white alike. It crosses all these varied stratifications we create in more or less equal numbers. Domestic Violence isn’t racist or classist. It is.
I believe we have a duty to create a world where young and old can feel safe and reach for their own self actualization. That means we need a world where people can live without fear. I believe one of the worst places to live in fear is in the home. We cherish the home as the place where the heart is. Where can we turn, then, if the place where our heart is is black with rage?
I shared Cristi’s story. I explained what I didn’t do and how my spiritual beliefs lead me to his space of comfort. I know what I didn’t do, whether or not it would have been helpful is not for me to know. I can share her story. I hope the story speaks for itself.
If you know someone who is possibly in a relationship with Domestic Violence, simply tell them how you feel. Tell them you are scared for them. Do research in your area about local shelters and services offered. Have a one page “go-to” sheet on hand in case its needed. Remember, please, don’t tell this person what to do even if you know you’re right. This person needs a compassionate ear to listen, to hear. They need a safe place since home is no longer. They need a safe place so they can tell their story with their words and their mouth.
Not a day goes by where I don’t think of my late sister. Not a day goes by where I don’t stop to wonder what life would be like to grow older with the sister who was closest to my twin. Not a day goes by where I don’t stop to ponder where she mustered the patience to do all that she could do. Not a day goes by where I don’t yearn for another conversation with her. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish that she could see the neat things I’ve done and how amazing my son is. Not a day goes by where I don’t wish she could know my husband, growing to know him in similar ways that I am, watching our relationship mature, since she was the first where I shared my initial crush.
Not a day goes by where I don’t just simply miss her.
Domestic violence kills. Domestic violence is silent. Domestic violence crosses all class, race, ethnic lines. Learn the red flags. Learn about warning signs. Donate to a shelter in your town.
When I consider the date, I often think of her. It was her birthday. Now guilt too surrounds missing my nieces birthday which falls the day before. It’s poetic that our modem died on this day. I asked her on a few occasions: don’t you feel unlucky that your birthday could land on Friday the 13th? She simply answered, “Why would it be unlucky? It’s my birthday!”
So, I hadn’t thought of that question for years, until this week, when the unlucky day reared its head.
Is it really unlucky?
Like my diminishing belief in soul mates, I rarely believe in luck. So, I don’t think I even had bad luck yesterday when my keys went missing and Levi’s squeezy bottle was temporarily mislaid. Still no word on the keys, but the squeezy bottle was found, in the car.
I believe life is what you make of it. We have to work at our relationships. They don’t just come handed to us. We argue, we fight, we disagree, and we have to make a choice on whether or not we want that to define us or the solution to those disagreements to define us.
I choose the solution. I choose, more specifically, the positive solution and I try to think consciously about my choices, daily. Even when I’m digging my heels in and being stubborn, I am aware of that choice.
So, thank you, world, for the poetic silence on Friday, May 13th, 2011 in my daily-blog posting. Thank you for reminding me that Friday the 13th is lucky because it is somebody’s birthday, somewhere – and how can a birthday be bad when it’s framed on celebration?
We are (wo)men. (Or Womyn if you prefer). Women and men. We are human. We are not God, god, or gods. We are imperfect. We make mistakes. We lose things. We forget things. We unintentionally (sometimes intentionally) hurt people. We crash things. We break things. We take too much money. We shortchange ourselves. We underestimate our time. We overestimate costs and pass that onto others. We are imperfect. All of us.
I have had more than one boss that seemed to expect perfection. And, they, least of anyone, certainly never made mistakes. Other people were chided for not “knowing better” because they should have. Thankfully, I recall my parents being fairly understanding in life, although on a few occasions my siblings and I certainly heard that from my mother or step-father (You should have known better!).
This recent push to weaken abortion, make domestic violence okay, take away care for people with no money, and generally undermine our society even more makes me think about a book by Margaret Atwood, A Handmaid’s Tale. I eluded to this book in my rant, Subordination and Created Equal.
I used to believe we were innately good, as people. I hope we have enough goodness in ourselves to make the world a better place – but I think really we are innately selfish. I think it takes more environment than intuitiveness to groom ourselves to be good people who exhibit kindness, compassion, foresight, and vision. For me, this is a sad realization that solidified watching my son grow. I don’t think he intends to harm people, but he doesn’t instinctively share – for example. When he plays, he likes to knock blocks down, and playmates of the same age, younger or older, all despise this trait because they worked so hard to build their block tower so high. It’s not good or bad, what Levi is doing. It just is. He is looking out for himself, he is playing selfishly. That’s okay, but it’s my job, as his mother, to teach him about a broader world.
These recent digs at our well-being make me think the folks pushing this didn’t have the same kind of mothering. (Or maybe they did, but mom did something where they interpreted badly and now resent that kind of socialist thinking.) Here are a few compiled by MoveOn.org:
Republicans not only want to reduce women’s access to abortion care, they’re actually trying to redefine rape. After a major backlash, they promised to stop. But they haven’t yet. Shocker.
A state legislator in Georgia wants to change the legal term for victims of rape, stalking, and domestic violence to “accuser.” But victims of other less gendered crimes, like burglary, would remain “victims.”
In South Dakota, Republicans proposed a bill that could make it legal to murder a doctor who provides abortion care. (Yep, for real.)
Republicans want to cut nearly a billion dollars of food and other aid to low-income pregnant women, mothers, babies, and kids.
In Congress, Republicans have a bill that would let hospitals allow a woman to die rather than perform an abortion necessary to save her life.
This is a top five of ten. What happened in A Handmaid’s Tale that is so reminiscent?
The Bible was used to support decisions to allow handmaidens to birth couples children.
Rights were slowly taken away from women, banking on people not paying attention, where library cards, jobs, and the ability to smoke cigarettes was removed.
David Hume has said, “Liberty of any kind is never lost all at once.” We become complacent. We get the logic of one thing while abhorring the logic of another, yet allow it in maybe the name of safety and security.
The world is a big, bad scary place. Yes, we give rules to our children, but a rite of passage occurs between 16 and 21 where we are old enough to make our own decisions. The more we abdicate to the state, the less we have to do for ourselves. The irony of this eroding away at rights for women is the idea many of the same people pushing this agenda have that the Left instates too much of a nanny system.
I do not like Nanny States. I think it’s another method of control with a socialist twist. The challenge is to allow and support these Left agendas without creating a Nanny state, empowering people, and honoring choice.
Maybe that’s just too scary for those in charge. The alternative, for me, though is the scary part. I don’t want Levi to partake in a world like A Handmaid’s Tale. And that’s not the world I want to be a part of.
We have an imperfect government because we are imperfect. Together, though, we have a lot of smarts, intelligence, creativity. Together, we can create a more perfect union that embraces differences, choices, and rights of all. I want to be a part of that world.
This too shall pass. This phrase is one of my favorite. Why? Simply because it’s true. It doesn’t matter what is happening at any given moment at any time at any event: This too shall pass. Good, bad, horrible, indifferent, great, exciting, fascinating – it all passes into history, awaiting a new day with new adventures. Finally ending in our own deaths where in a certain regard, it doesn’t matter because what’s done is done. In that sense, life is not a competition.
I believe in God for a few reasons. One is because it simply sounds like a good idea. There is so much in this world I cannot and do not understand. My feeble little human brain cannot wrap itself around all the crap we are dealt with in our lifetime. Life is not fair, and I have to have faith that there is something else better awaiting us just for my own simple sanity.
I came to this realization one night when I was in third grade.
I still had my own room. It, I recall, had a big bed. I was laying in bed, tucked in snuggly with the sheets and blankets pulled taught with their tight hospital corners.
I couldn’t sleep. We had moved again. Still no return of my father (he had left us 3 times, the last being for good). We were away from the place I knew as home: my grandparents farm. We moved downstate into my aunt and uncle’s apartment first. Downstate was like another country as far as I was concerned having lived only in the Upper Peninsula. The most recent move moved us out of my aunt and uncle’s apartment (yes, that was a tight fit – two bedroom apartment, 3 adults and 3 kids) into a (public housing) townhouse, across town, to another school. All those comforts of home were gone. I had gone to yet another school. I was, yet again, the new girl who couldn’t make any friends. At that point, I had lived in more than 5 different towns/cities and had gone to maybe 4 or 5 different schools.
I was in third grade. I was 8 years old.
That means one or two different schools per grade, at that critical age when you’re trying to fit in, figure out life outside of Mom, and get to know all these new “friends”, your peers in your community.
So, that night instead of sleeping, I prayed. I remember thanking God for what I did have. A house. My mom. My sister and brother. Food to eat. Clothes to wear. Church friends. I also remember thinking, if my real father couldn’t be there, at least there was someone I could call Father.
That, in essence, explains my spiritual beliefs. When we cannot get comfort from those around us, let us get comfort from something outside our being. I was raised Catholic, so I continue to use the label of God because this is what makes sense to me.
With my belief in God (and selling books door-to-door), I also believe that no one is dealt a hand with which they cannot deal. That is, you aren’t given something out of your means. Death, life, success, failure – it is all within our capabilities to handle the situation, and to survive.
Sometimes someone is dealt a very shitty hand. And, sometimes a person isn’t (to our eyes) – they might be born with what we deem to be a silver spoon. However, we all have terrible moments; and we all have good. I believe, I hope, that we are all given crap relative to which we can handle it, hopefully gracefully. (And sometimes not.) But, in the end, I believe we are given the ability to come out smelling like roses.
So, in effect, I believe that no hand is shittier than another. Just because someone only lost a loved one late in life, this doesn’t mean their trials and tribulations are less worthy of note than another if they were dealt with loss their entire life. Why? Because in this sense, life is not a competition. This part of life is where we need to lean on each other for support.
Regarding my own personal sob story, I can see the lessons and some of the reasons now, nearly 30 years later.
It was actually a very good thing my dad wasn’t a full part of my growing up years. Sure, it sucked pickles while growing up, but it allowed my mother to remarry and for me to have a great role-model in my stoic, even-handed, kind, generous step-father. It grew my family, so we were five siblings growing up together instead of 3. We had enough for the starting line up in basketball. Nearly enough to fill all the bases in baseball (or softball). It broadened my awareness of what family is, now being a blended family with all these “STEPS”. It showed me a different culture from the Polish heritage I had only known. Stability reigned through to my step-father’s hometown, where we spent the rest of my growing up years, and now consider my hometown. I even began my college career at his (nearly) alma-mater, Michigan State University. I have my Aunt Betsy because of this sequence of events, the one who introduced me to 50 Ways We Can Save the Earth, the book I consider the fire that ignited my environmental-sustainable passions, what I feel is my purpose in life.
Life is not a competition because everything happens for a reason. Sure, argue that I tell myself this for comfort, a religious crutch. I won’t defend the point because with this comfort, I can sleep at night.
Suggested topic: What do you want to be remembered for?
Cristi’s death forced my hand on this question. Sure, I’ve had a few grandparents pass away, but when your peer, your sister dies “before her time” it makes you think about this topic a little bit more.
I’ve blogged about it enough that if you’ve been keeping up, you know that it’s been quite a process getting over my step-sisters very untimely death. I’m sorry if you, dear reader, think this topic is old and trite, but it’s something I think about often, so please bear with me.
Cristi’s eulogy focused on the all-around gal she was. She was a special ed teacher, volleyball coach, softball coach, basketball player (and sometimes coach), daughter, sister, aunt, a friend. She played many leadership roles, especially as a teacher. She coached teenagers through true teenage crises, convincing them there is a reason to have a will to live. So, how is this complex individual remembered? We remember people through stories, through books, and through tombstones.
Cristi’s tombstone reminds me of the Russian tombstones here in Portland. It is a collage of photos overlaying the polished granite surrounded by other stones bearing epitaphs to her life. I’ve been to her grave twice now. Once at her funeral, before the stone was put in place. The second time was in September 2009, more than two years after her death. It was full of fresh flowers, jersey’s sporting her number, four, in the Byron Center colors of orange and black. I was glad no one else was around.
It seems odd to me that Cristi is remembered so largely for the sports part of her life. Sure, it was a big part of her life, but she was so much more than a sports player and a coach. Although the gravestone looks fine, and it is loved by many of my family members, I can’t help but think that it doesn’t quite do the Cristi I knew justice. It’s like it’s missing something. I’m not sure what, but the feeling I get is the compassionate side of her. Cristi loved and valued other people more than herself, and that is not showcased on her gravestone.
So, knowing that with all the interactions we have in life, no one person will ever know all of you. Husbands see certain sides, friends see another, and sisters and brothers see yet another. Mothers, fathers, and grandparents offer a completely different perspective on our personalities. I only hope they see what I hope shows that I am striving to be.
To my knowledge, Cristi didn’t have the chance to say, “Remember me this way!” If you overlook that we all have that chance in our daily lives, most assume we’ll live until our generic life expectancy in our 70s or 80s. We don’t often think, what would this world look like or remember me by if I were to die tomorrow? We don’t often think that tragedy will hit us in that way. Most of us aren’t afflicted with terminal illness or in domestic violence situations or living in war zones where the constant threat of death is at our doorsteps.
So, thank you Cristi at least for the wake up call that we need to be on our best behavior because life is too short. If we consider what we want others to think of us as, perhaps it will serve as goal setting. So, now I am writing it down in this blog for all the world to see.
I want to be remembered as someone who took judicious action, picking up where there is a social need, and taking the ball and running with it. I want to be known for my compassion, my understanding, being forthright, honest, friendly. I want to be known as a good person.
My cousin, and for sake of simplicity, we’ll include my cousin-in-law, who this directly affects, in that part, “My Cousin.” She lost her sister. Just 13 days ago. I’m able to keep light tabs on them through facebook. From what I can see, there is no reason for her sister’s death. A young 30-something female, wife and mother, who just up and died. No reason.
There was a reason Cristi died. My sister. She was shot. The reasons why she was shot to death are less clear to me.
My cousin, she posted a statement tonight on facebook, pleading to know that this grief gets better. Her sister’s death comes three and a half years after my sister’s death. About three years after I started writing about my sister’s death. My cousin’s post tonight makes me think about my grief process and how I’ve tried to make sense of the senseless.
My grief pattern has went something like this:
A little fear
Inability to listen to music directly associated with my sister and/or her death
Initially I was just in shock. The first day, the first week, the first few weeks. The first day was this overabundance of emotion and shock – flip flopping between, “What!? I can’t believe this is happening! How can this happen to our family?” to “I can’t believe she’s gone, how can she be gone?” So many tears were shed, I’m tearing up thinking about it.
We were at the airport, buying our bereavement-tickets directly from the United counter. We were able to get them for $400 a piece to fly out the next day. I was shaking so bad (later finding out I have Grave’s Disease, where one of the triggers is stress). Back and forth from borderline hyperventilation to sobs to quiet shock.
Suddenly, less than 24 hours later, we were with family. We flew into Lansing, where the in-laws picked us up and lent us a car. We had a dinner at Subway, and I could barely eat. Again, I was shaking. All I wanted was to be with my family.
And, then, we were at my brother’s house. Sadness, disbelief. Glad to see everyone, but under these circumstances? How cruel that domestic violence stole our sister/daughter/friend from this world and we have come together because of it?
We stayed in Michigan for 3 and a half weeks. We went to all the wakes, the funerals, the dinners together. We celebrated my brother’s upcoming wedding with bachelorette parties and beer by bonfires. We already had plans to head back in a little over a month. This trip was such an emotional roller-coaster, I still can’t wrap my head around it. Intense joy for seeing people, new people, new babies, old people, the same people. Celebrating new joys with upcoming weddings, new home purchases, just the joy of seeing each other. All of this under the banner of death. We were brought together prematurely because our sister was killed by someone we thought was an okay guy.
So, I think I felt a little fear. Ever hear that saying, “You never can really know anyone.” So, I started, again, looking at people with distrust and fear. Could they turn on me like Joe turned on Cristi by stealing her life away?
Guilt – what could I have done? What could we have done to prevent this? Could I have made a better effort to talk to her? With time zones and business, likely not. I had just spoken to Cristi a month earlier, in June of 2007. We were just catching up. It’d been six months since we talked, the last time being my wedding. She told me she was going to be head coach of volleyball at Aquinas. She’d start in a month. I was excited for her, and especially for her to meet Levi.
She never did.
Always sadness, still, then, from the beginning intertwined. Sometimes it was a deeper darker sadness than others, but that overwhelming grief that leads to random, impromptu crying. When something reminded me or reminds me of her, and the tears come. I cannot listen to the Kenny Chesney song they overlayed on the video played at her funeral. I cannot listen to Rascall Flatts without feeling anger because that was the concert attended preceding her death. The concert attended where Joe got drunk, something he rarely did. The concert that somewhere lead to an argument that lead to him pulling out his mini gun collection, toying with it, teasing her, and drawing her into the bedroom where he shot her and himself.
Always questioning why such a bright, young, screwed up woman had to leave this world before she got to really work on herself. She did for others so much, when was her chance for others to do for her? Not at her funeral. Not a eulogy, but life. Living. 10 months before her 30th birthday. We are the oldest together of our five siblings, and now it’s me. The oldest, the only one born in 1978 left alive. I still don’t know how to answer the question of how many siblings I have. I settle with, I grew up with 5.
The grief is quieter now. Less prevalent in day-to-day life, but she’s always in the background. I’ve stopped dreaming about her, or rather she visits my dreams less and less. So, it’s a little easier to accept that she’s gone and make peace with the whole thing. Joe was screwed up, just like Cristi, and he in a poor manner enacted on his rage and control. They both could have used a lot more compassion, and individual responsibility. So, I move on with these lessons to teach Levi better boundaries and hope he can learn these lessons before something completely tragic happens.
My grief process is marked by the incident not just the loss. It has brought awareness to Domestic Violence issues. I don’t think I’d ever be able to volunteer at a shelter, but awareness of the importance of donating has because a new priority.
So, to my cousin, I have this to say: Yes, it gets better, but it never gets easy. We learn to live with the sadness life gives us, and hopefully to appreciate the joys more.