I am a gun violence survivor. That is how my life has changed. I was Mom, Nana, Wife, Environmental Health and Safety professional and a myriad of other roles, but not a survivor.
I took me four years to be able to say those words.
Although they were Uncle Ron and Aunt Lucy to our children and our friends for decades, Jordan wasn’t my child, my nephew or my cousin. When he was shot and killed, I didn’t have the right to the title “survivor.” For me, it was a terrible honor given to family members who were forced to deal with one of the worst life experiences — the club no one wants to be in. One I didn’t deserve to be in. Nevertheless I experienced a profound grief and fear.
I got the first hint that I was a survivor from Lucy McBath. During one of our many special conversations, Lucy said to me, “You are a survivor, I know you loved him, you are a survivor.” Although I didn’t say it to her, I did not accept it. I couldn’t be a survivor, it wasn’t my place. Then other gun violence survivors began to reach out to me. They found me everywhere. At meetings, on Facebook even through email. I had other survivors whose experiences involved themselves or their relatives say to me, you are a survivor.
After nearly four years of being involved in the gun violence prevention movement, I agreed to volunteer with survivors. Helping them to get involved and to connect with each other. It was during one of those activities that my emotions bubbled to the surface and I found myself in tears. While I had always been accepted by other survivors, I once again felt like I had no right to feel this. It was at that moment that another survivor, a woman whose son had been killed at the Pulse Night Club, looked me in the eye and asked, “Did you love him?” Of course I loved him. He was one of my own. Then she said, “You Are A survivor.”
The dam broke. The tears flowed again.
About 15 minutes later, standing in front of a mirror, I said the words for the first time: “I am a survivor.”
Today I say to you “I am a survivor.” I have shared my survivor story and continue to work for gun violence prevention and gun safety and especially for an end to Stand Your Ground laws for Lucy, Ron, Jordan, my six grandchildren and for all the lives that will be taken because someone believes they have a license to kill. Many of us are survivors and don’t know it. We are everywhere.