After my sister, Sandra, was murdered in September of 2009, I was pro-active in seeking help to deal with the tragedy.  I saw my doctor regularly, a family therapist and later a psychologist. I also found a wonderful support group through our local hospice.

At first, I felt so weak, needing help dealing with the loss. As the weeks unfolded into months, I realized, with the help of all my support, that I wasn’t weak at all for needing help. I was strong for realizing I needed it. And even stronger for asking for help.

I remember discussing in the support group ‘finding a purpose.’ When we first talked about finding a purpose, I thought the group leader meant a purpose for Sandra’s death.  How could I ever find a purpose for my sister being murdered?  Jennifer, the group leader, was so patient with me. She explained I would not find a purpose for her death, but I would find new purpose for myself because of her death.

I then became almost obsessed with finding that purpose. What would it be?

I thought about writing a book (I’m still toying with the idea). I started writing for Open To Hope. Was that my purpose….to educate others through my own experiences?

The man accused of murdering my sister was arrested in March of 2010.  All the preliminary hearings were completed by early May.  Our court date was set for June 7th.  As June 7th approached, all of us grew very anxious, wanting this part of the tragedy over. Unfortunately the trial was continued until June 21st. I just knew on June 21st that we would go to court and it would be over.

I had my hopes up so high. When the trial was again continued until September 13th, I found myself deflated. I was beside myself with questions and disappointment.   I had started doing some research about the court process etc. a few months before and I decided to continue with that research. I needed to be better educated. I needed to channel my disappointment into something tangible for myself.

Educating myself was  perhaps one of the best decisions I made.  I researched. I not only researched the court processes, I researched the man accused of the murder.  The information I found was appalling. I was shocked at the information I found and anger began to show it’s ugly head.  By the time, I completed my research on the accused, I had a file over an inch thick about this person and his criminal activity.

I reviewed the files I had printed. The more I read them, the angrier I became.   I took the information to my support group and shared it with the group.  I had moved back to my home state in May and found a new support group.  The group was specifically for family and friends of victims of violence.

The group leader, Lisa, listened to what I read and responded with, “so what are you going to do about it?”  I looked at her with a blank stare. What did she mean? She then went on to tell me how several laws that are in affect today came about because someone cared, someone demanded change, someone fought for change.  Lisa really gave me a lot to think about.
The next day, I had made my decision. I started emailing state senators and representatives. I told them ‘my story’.  I shared my information with them. I told them “the criminal justice system as it is, failed my sister, failed my family terribly.”

I continued to email the same people for a few weeks. I was pleasantly surprised when I actually received a phone call from one of them.   I had been heard.  I was given more names, names that were directly involved with the restructuring of the criminal justice system in my state.  I began emailing those people too. Within a few weeks, I received an email. The email was from the coordinator of the ‘team’ working on the restructure.  She asked for my opinions and ideas. She heard me and she listened.

I am now happy to say that I have been invited to the statehouse at the state capital to give my input and opinion on the framework for the restructure.  I don’t know if what I have to say will change anything or not. I do know, I won’t quit fighting for the change.  I will not quit fighting to protect other potential victims and their families.

No change will undo what has been done. No change will bring my sister back. I know that.  Change will protect others.  Change is my new purpose.  It’s funny how, when I more or less quit dwelling on a purpose, the purpose came to me.  I feel re-energized. I am doing something that needs to be done.  I am my sister’s voice.

I share this experience hoping that perhaps others will also find a new purpose.  It may not be changing any laws or being invited to the statehouse. It may be to volunteer to drive cancer patients to their chemo treatments. It may be to volunteer for hospice.  It may be to look back and see that person just starting this journey of grief and offering them a hand, listening to them, giving them hope.

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Shirley Wiles-Dickinson

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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