October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Read and share stories to honor survivors whose lives have been changed by domestic violence.

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Sujata Paul-de Leede

In memory of Johan

My in-laws lived in a beautiful home that overlooked the water. Johan loved to sail and dreamed of living on the water. After retirement, they found the home of their dreams and created a sanctuary for their children and grandchildren — a place we could come for rest and relaxation. One of my father-in-law’s passions was gardening, and he excelled at it spectacularly. His garden was vibrant and lush. My in-laws were generous in sharing their beautiful home with family and friends – it was the place for soccer team parties, family gatherings, Christmas and birthday celebrations, Memorial Day camping trips. Every guest was warmly welcomed and invited to share in the beauty of the area – the marsh, the birds, the sunsets. And at the center of it all was Johan, smiling proudly, taking in the atmosphere of family and friends enjoying themselves.

In March 2016, we had family visiting from the Netherlands and sometime around 1 a.m. our lives changed forever. That was the day that gun violence crashed into our home and never left. Johan was sitting in his home, eating his banana and drinking warm milk, when someone came up behind the house and from outside, fired several rounds from a semi-automatic gun into the living room, killing him, leaving us with a rush of heartbreak, fear and emptiness. In an instant, my mother-in-law lost everything – her husband of more than 50 years, her home, her stability. My husband lost his hero. The family lost their guiding compass. The grandchildren lost the happy and wise spirit they called Opa; their innocence has been lost to the fear that what happened to their Opa could happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time. Our feelings of intense loss and grief are compounded by fear, as this case remains unsolved. There are no suspects, and there are no motives. We are left with a loss that has no answers.

For the family, life will never be the same. The holidays, always a time for warm family gatherings, are now quiet. The empty chair a constant reminder of our deep loss.

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