On September 18th, my sister, Sandra, was found dead in her home. It was ruled a homicide later that day. Within a few days we had received the answers to two of our questions. When and How. The time of death was recorded as shortly after 9 am, when she was pronounced dead in her home. My other two sisters and I will always believe she died the night before, September 17. We also found out how she died. Stab wounds to the heart. Receiving those two answers were heart wrenching. Albeit they were answers we so desperately needed. The two remaining questions that loomed over us were the Who and the almighty Why.
Those questions were not answered so quickly. As much as I hoped to have all the answers before we buried my dear sister, the answers did not come.
During her visitation and funeral, many people came to offer their condolences. One thing I have the need to discuss is what do you say to a grieving family, a family that lost a loved one to murder? I know first hand some of the things said to me were shocking. We, meaning our general society, often assume others have the same beliefs we do. Just for the record, a simple “I’m so sorry for your loss” and a hug if you feel comfortable will do just fine. I know I’ve questioned what I have said in the past to bereaved people. I’ve changed what I now say to I’m so sorry. I was told the night of the visitation that “it was God’s will.” I thought to myself at the time, “are you kidding me? God’s will?” The God I know doesn’t will someone as good as my sister, doesn’t will anyone, to die from a brutal stabbing. I also heard, “it was her time.”  Again I thought, her time? No, it wasn’t her time. Someone made that choice for her. My sister had a lot of life left to live and someone, something evil made the choice to end her live, so no, it wasn’t her time. I also heard, “you have two other sisters.”  Yes, I do, but unless you know and understand the relationship I shared with Sandra, you would understand that no one, not one single person could ever replace what I shared with her. As unbelievable as it may sound, I was also asked, “what did she do, who did she make that angry?” I had to walk away from that person. Perhaps it was rude of me, but I couldn’t take it. She did nothing wrong. She didn’t ask to be murdered. It was a robbery gone bad, very bad. She was in her home, the safety of her own home and an evil person tried to steal from her. She was home and caught him in the act and he chose to end her life, brutally.
Any grief takes time to deal with. I’ve learned that complicated grief takes time and then some more time. My husband and I returned home the day after my sisters funeral. I was a wreck. I immediately sought help from my doctor, who also referred me to a therapist. I was proactive in seeking help. I knew this situation was much bigger than I and I needed help. In the beginning, I felt weak, less of a person for not being able to deal with all of it. It took me several months to realize it was my own inner strength that reached out for help. I would suggest the same to anyone going through any type of loss. I trusted my doctor and therapist to handle my physical and mental health. I was and am still being treated for severe depression and post traumatic stress. During those months, the question of Who and Why loomed all around me. Not a day went by that I didn’t pray the phone would ring and the detective would tell me they made an arrest. Day after day, month after month, I waited. In my mind, I had already tried and convicted someone, her ex husband. I created the motive, the scenario, everything. No one could convince me otherwise. He was guilty and I just knew it. In fact, my sisters, niece and mother thought the same thing. We fed off each others answer during that time. In hindsight, I realize it wasn’t a good thing to do, but we knew no better.
The shock of my sisters murder still hasn’t worn off completely. I did experience complete sadness for several months, then anger reared it’s ugly head. I found ways to release the anger. I hung a punching bag in our garage and would put on my boxing gloves and punch and punch and yes, I even swore during those sessions. I would punch until I was exhausted and collapsed in tears. It helped though.
By the first of the year, my marriage really began to detiorate. My husband, like most men, wanted to “fix” everything for me. He couldn’t do it. No one could do it. Time was the only thing that could help me.
I tried going back to work and failed. Fortunately I worked for a great company that offered short and long term disability. My doctor refused to let me try to go back to work again. The fears that come along with a situation like this are mind boggling. I was afraid of the dark–still am to some degree. I was afraid of men, thinking they would hurt me. I trusted very few people. After all, it happened to my sister, why couldn’t it happen to me? My sisters experienced some of the same fears. My niece, Sandra’s daughter, still can’t stay at home alone at night. The after-effects are often indescribable. I found myself having to actively fight agoraphobia. It was difficult for me to go into public places. I felt safe in my home and didn’t want to leave it. I did though. I forced myself out every day. Even if it was to walk to the corner of our block and back, I did it. All the time, wondering why they hadn’t arrested my sisters ex husband. After all, I knew he did it. I just knew it.
I continued to see my doctor and eventually went to a psychologist. I also attended a weekly support group. I felt my strength returning.
A little over 5 months into the grief process I made the decision to move back to my home state. My husband agreed. He understood my overwhelming need to be with my family. I needed to be closer to them, I needed to see them. So in early March I began to plan my move. I was hoping to move by May.
The struggle with the Who and Why continued. I spoke to the detectives about once a month. Often he couldn’t share much information with the family. Any information leaked could hurt the investigation. I understood that. I didn’t like it, but I understood it. Back in September, that detective looked me in the eye and told me that my sisters case would never become a cold case. They would find the person responsible. I trusted him. I knew he would follow through for our family. I had more faith in him than anyone else. Still the days slowly went by. The waiting, the anticipation of the answer was difficult to bear.
By the first of March, going into the sixth month, my anxiety level was through the roof. I wanted an arrest to be made so badly. I wanted to feel a little safer knowing the person wouldn’t hurt anyone else. I prayed for that answer.
One of the best things I did during that time, what seemed to help me the most, was journaling. I wrote letters to Sandra every single day. I would pour my heart out to her, seeking answers, trying to make sense of it all. Just getting it on paper and out of my mind for a brief time helped immensely.
I dealt with desperately wanting to know the Who. The Why, I really struggled with. I questioned everything. I questioned God. I questioned our judicial system, I questioned. After nine months, I’ve realized the why may never be answered. There will never be an answer to the why that will justify my sisters murder to me. I told myself to let the why go. Just let it go. I try and I do believe I’m succeeding at it. I still question why, however I also know it will be an unanswered question. I will live the rest of my life wondering why. I will live the rest of my life knowing how my sisters life was taken. I will live the rest of my live feeling robbed of any future I should have had with her. Six months in, I focused on the who. The who was on my mind continuously. I begged my sister for signs. Help me solve this. Give me a clue a sign. I didn’t know if she could or would, but to me, it was worth a shot, asking her everyday for her help. When would the who be answered? Six long months, agonizing months. Who would do this. Who?

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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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