I didn’t realize that I was a survivor until I started working with Moms Demand Action. I equated survivors as those who SURVIVED a mass shooting or maybe street violence. It wasn’t until hearing other stories similar to mine that I realized that my life had been directly impacted by gun violence.
I lost my brother Junior to suicide by gun over 25 years ago. Junior was six years older than me. He was the middle kid of five, the sweetest, most loving, kindhearted brother. He loved his family so much. He used to call me his Piscean twin, would squeeze my cheeks so hard, and say I was “a little China doll,” like the David Bowie song. I can’t hear that song without thinking of him. Junior had been batting schizophrenia for five years, hearing voices telling him to kill himself, and finally succeeded when he got access to a gun at 26. His death changed the course of my whole family that day. Neither my father, or my second-oldest brother (who found my Junior’s body), could recover from the guilt of feeling they somehow could have done more. Our once close-knit family spiraled apart.
For me, as a mom now, I live with constant paranoia that something bad is going to happen to one of my sons – whether they are shot down at school or, heaven forbid, they take their own lives. One of my sons reminds me so much of Junior, and I fear him not being able to survive the emotional intensity of the teen years. My thoughts always go to the dark place – what’s the worst that could happen – because that’s happened to my family. My brother’s death didn’t just take one life. Every shooting has a ripple effect that impacts, and changes the course of the lives of, so many people.