It will soon be 26 months since my beautiful sister, Sandra, lost her life by the hands of a murderer. I think back on the last 26 months and all that happened, all I learned. I often described those months as a rollercoaster. Emotions and feelings were up and down, up and down. Lately, I’ve likened the experience to a personal earthquake.

The day I learned of my sister’s death it did feel like an earthquake. The epi center of that quake was my core, my being. I was thrown off center, suddenly. Month after month, I felt off kilter, not centered, unstable. Throughout the last 26 months, after that initial quake, I experienced aftershocks, smaller quakes that continued to keep me off center, out of alignment. We waited six months for an arrest to be made. When the arrest was finally made, I felt an aftershock. Jolted back to those first days after her murder, the emotions I felt then, again resurfaced.

The murderer pled not guilty, so we spent the next 18 months waiting for a jury trial. We had 7 continuances. Each continuance was again like an aftershock. Each continuance rattled me, kept me off center. Throughout those 18 months of waiting we were given some information about the case. Of course, full disclosure of all the evidence wasn’t permitted, anything told to us could jeopardize the case, so we remained ‘in the dark’ about some things.

When the jury trial did begin, just 10 days prior to the two-year anniversary of my sister’s death, I felt several aftershocks. It was an intense week. Throughout the trial we listened to testimony and we learned, perhaps more than we were prepared to learn. In the end, the murderer was found guilty. A few weeks later he was sentenced to 95 years, the maximum sentence possible.

In the last two months, since the trial ended, I’ve struggle with what to do with all that information. I try to put it away in my mind. I try to push it deep down in my brain, hoping it remains there and doesn’t resurface. I’ve worked so hard at moving forward, making good, positive changes in my life. Just when I thought I was I was on level ground again, just when I thought I was becoming aligned once again, I experienced yet another aftershock.

I was driving the 90 miles to go see my Mother. Perhaps it was the solitude of the drive, I don’t know, but there, front and center in my mind was the testimony of the doctor that performed the autopsy on my sister’s body. His words echoed in my mind, “almost torturous”. “The murderer kept her on the defensive.” “When she put her hand out to try to scratch him, he stabbed her palm.” “When she crossed her arms in front of her face and chest to protect herself, he slashed at her forearms over and over again.” “When she turned away from him, he cut the back of her head and neck.”

The words rang out in my mind. I wanted to wail, to scream, to cry out. I always thought of the fear and the terror my sister must have felt in her final moments, but on this day, the word suffering was glaring. She suffered. She suffered a terrible death that no one should ever have to suffer. Knowing how she suffered, knowing she didn’t stand a chance against the animal, reliving that testimony was and is a tough aftershock. He wore her down, almost like he toyed with her, wearing her down until he could deliver the fatal stab wound. The stab that went through her lung, into her heart, then into her liver.

As hard as I try to bury that information, it resurfaces. Perhaps in time, it will resurface less and less. That remains to be seen. In the meantime, I have no choice but to live through the aftershocks. As I pulled into the parking lot of the assisted living facility where my Mother lives, it would have been easy for me to turn around and just go home. I could not, I would not do that. Had I done that, the animal would in a sense, win again.

I composed myself, took several deep breaths and walked into my Mom’s apartment. I smiled, I kissed her forehead and not once did my 82 year old Mother know that her baby girl was having a rough day. I survived the aftershock. I will survive all of the aftershocks yet to come. I may never be completely aligned again, I may always feel a little off kilter, but in the end, I will continue to win each and every battle.

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson 2011

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson

Shirley Wiles-Dickinson is the youngest of four girls in a Midwestern family. In 2009, her sister was brutally murdered. She writes about her experience following this loss.

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