Mother's day is a time of joy for many, but it is also a time of pain for others. Couples who have struggled with infertility know the pain quite well. Those who have had miscarriages know the pain of loss in an even greater way. Parents who have lost children due to illness, accident, suicide, or even murder, know the pain of loss at a depth that I can only imagine. It is in this pain that the Good Shepherd can meet us at the point of our need.
While I prepared my homily for the weekend, Ashlin kept popping into my mind. I knew we were approaching the 10-year anniversary of her death, and the thought of how much pain her mother has endured these past ten years kept weighing on my mind. The pain of loss is bad enough any time when a young person dies. When a young person dies by violence, it is even more devastating.
My blog posts in recent years reflecting on the death of Ashlin have been the most read posts I have had in all my years of blogging. I feel compelled to run some of it again this year on the 10-year anniversary of her death. Raising awareness of domestic violence and abusive relationships is a necessary task in modern society. If the pain of one family can prevent another family from experiencing the same thing, my time in sharing this blog is well-worth it.
Watching the evening news in any major metropolitan city can be quite depressing. There are stories of violence and crime night after night. How do we cope with grief, sadness, and tragedy when it comes to us in such a steady flow? Do we grow numb to it all? What happens when the tragedy hits close to home? How does that change the perspective?
Over thirty-five years ago I graduated from college with a degree in Criminal Justice and Sociology. My first job out of college was in law enforcement. I became a police officer with the St. Louis County Police Department. This small town farm boy was introduced to some realities of life that I had not previously known. It was especially true when I worked the evening or midnight shift. There were nights when one call after another was for a "domestic disturbance." People who had thought enough of one another at some point in time to date, live together, or even get married were now fighting intensely with one another.
The things I witnessed were shocking. I had learned about these things in my college classes from a sociological point of view as well as from a criminal vantage point. Now I was seeing it first hand, up-close and personal. Once in a while there was a little humor to be found in the mess, but most of the time it was just frightening.
Once as I approached a house for a domestic disturbance call I could see through the picture window that a woman was heaving potted plants at her husband. No weapons were in sight. As I entered the scene both parties calmed down. As they each looked at the potting soil covering the floor from about ten potted plants being heaved at the man, they just sort of sighed. A little chuckle even came forth as they thought about the mess that needed to be cleaned up following their spat.
Unfortunately, the majority of the domestic disturbance calls were much more serious. Guns and knives were frequently part of the equation. Others were even more creative. One individual boiled a pot of water, added bleach to it, and then threw it on the sleeping companion. The ways we choose to hurt one another can be extreme.
It was ten years ago today that Ashlin (pictured above) experienced the ultimate domestic violence. The world changed for many people on that fateful day. In my 20 years of ministry as a deacon, I have presided at or assisted with, numerous funeral rituals. Ashlin's has been the only memorial service that I have done for the victim of homicide. It was the most heart-breaking service that I have ever led. Ashlin wasn't just a newscast for me. Domestic violence had struck right into the heart of my own family.
A double homicide and a suicide devastated multiple families on that day. Two young toddlers lost both their parents and a third toddler lost his dad (Daniel). Parents and family members of the three deceased individuals were left with an overwhelming amount of grief. I cannot even imagine the level of emotions that must have been experienced by parents losing their children in such an unthinkable act. That grief continues to impact family members ten years later. As one family member mentioned, "The pain doesn't go away. You just learn different ways to cope."
The toddlers have grown up. Each milestone event that has taken place through the years with the kids leaves an aching thought, "What would Ashlin think about this?" I am sure this is true for Daniel's family as well. As Daniel's son moves through adolescence, it must be difficult at times for family members to watch milestone events happen without pondering what it would be like if circumstances were different.
The world turned upside down on that day for many people. However, the resilience by Ashlin's mom and so many others around her demonstrates the power of love. I have no words for that kind of love except to say, "Thanks." Hate, anger, and violence have been overcome by your love. You have been a witness for all of us in regard to courage and fortitude. I am sure Ashlin's mom would have preferred to stay in the role of grandma, but the circumstances dictated that she move into the role of mom. The energy, the stamina, and the ability to keep going despite the struggle says a lot about that kind of commitment and dedication. Keep up the good work.
The number of phone calls, e-mails, and public comments I received after posting about domestic violence in recent years has made me realize a little more clearly how pervasive the problem of domestic violence is. It is impacting a lot of people. I am praying in a fervent way today for all who are in danger. I am praying for all those in grief. The pain is real. The grief is immense. Domestic violence has a face, and it is the face of a loved one for many families.
Several people expressed their concerns to me in the past saying that "the system" doesn't work in regard to seeking protection. I realize that the system is not perfect, but I have seen it work in some instances. Doing nothing is probably not a good option if you know your life is in jeopardy. Each situation probably has its own unique set of circumstances, but the bottom line is to try to figure out how to keep everyone safe when the dynamics are threatening. There are no easy answers sometimes, but awareness and action may save someone's life.
Others expressed to me that in this particular case there were no warning signs. I was not close enough to the situation to know if there were signs or not. Sometimes, there are very few indicators of things being as tense as what they are. It is not always possible to detect the seriousness of the threat to one's well-being.
With that being said, I simply want to remind my readers to seek help if you are living in a dangerous situation. If you see a loved one in danger because of the volatile nature of a significant other, please try to intervene in some manner to protect your loved one. Don't wait until it is too late. There are resources available to assist you regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself. Domestic violence is real and it can shatter lives in a heartbeat. Don't become part of an evening newscast. Seek help before the situation gets to that point.
To all of Ashlin's family, please know of my prayers for you today. The pain of this 10-year anniversary of her death is sure to bring many emotions to the forefront. We mourn with you. However, we also give thanks for the treasured memories that remain from her short time on this earth. Most importantly, we give thanks for the wonderful children who carry on her legacy. May each of you feel the touch of God in a powerful way today and always!