My sister, Sandra, was murdered. I say it, I write, I think it, and still, 26 months after her death, I have moments that I can’t believe it happened. I have moments that it still seems surreal. I have moments that I ask myself, how did this happen to my sister, our family.

I did not witness the murder. I did, however, witness the murder trial, the conviction and the sentence. I know how she died. I know it was brutal. I know she suffered a great, great deal. I saw pictures, I heard testimony and I have a very clear picture in my mind of her final moments. With all that I know about her death, I have to work very hard at pushing that knowledge, along with the thoughts and images that come with it, to the back of my mind.

I work very hard at trying to focus on her life, not on how she died. And work it is; hard work, perhaps the hardest work I have ever done. I think about Sandra every day. For months and months, my thoughts were consumed with her death, the way she died.

I have recently made a conscious effort to try my best to focus on her life. I will never forget the way she died and now I vow to myself to never forget the way she lived. After all, how she lived is so much more important to her memory and my healing.

With the holiday season upon us, I have used that theme in my thinking. Every day I think of Sandra, I think of all I have to be thankful for. Not just what I’m thankful for today, in the present, but also what I’m thankful for in my past.

I am so thankful Sandra was my sister.

I am so thankful I had her in my life for 54 years.

I am so thankful for the lessons she taught me, the laughs we shared.

I am so thankful for the wonderful sister bond Sandra and I shared; a unique bond that I thought all sisters shared and have since learned differently.

I am so thankful for the unconditional love and acceptance Sandra and I had for each other. I am so thankful that I know and understand that the love and acceptance remains and always will.

I am thankful I have a sister named Sandra. I am so thankful for the time she was here, on earth with me. I am so thankful that having her as a sister ensured that our paths not only crossed, they intertwined for much of my life.

I will always know how Sandra died. I can share that story over and over again. I can help others that are going through a similar experience. More importantly, I will always know how Sandra lived. I can share that story over and over again, recounting all the ways she loved and gave to those around her. Sharing the story of how she lived, will hopefully help others become thankful for the time they had with their loved one too.

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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