This week marks the 22th anniversary of the murder of my son, Louis D. Brown. This week, I will spend the twenty-second Christmas without Louis. It does not get easier to miss my son; it does not get easier to sit next to his empty place at our table and wonder what he would be like if he had gotten to grow up. Yet, I have become more aware of my own grieving and healing process. I have planned, and prayed, and practiced the Principles of Peace. Through this practice, I have found ways to feel my sadness, anger, and anxiety while making room for joy, faith, and peace.
I often hear from survivors this time of year that you, like me, are struggling with grief and loss while feeling burdened by what you "should" be doing: shopping, cooking, cleaning, taking care of others. We worry about how our sadness, anger, and anxiety is impacting our living relatives. We feel unsure about how we should honor our loved one who was murdered. We wonder if it's even possible to celebrate without them.
During this season of peace and goodwill I would like to offer a message of hope and encouragement that came to me while I was dealing with my own feelings of grief and loss on the anniversary of my son's murder. In the holiday spirit of giving, I invite all of us to give ourselves what we need: permission. Try it on: give yourself permission.
Give yourself permission to acknowledge the pain that your loved one is gone.
In my family, we realized that when we worry less about what to say and just say it; when we name the empty place we already know is there, we're able to remember so much more about Louis. Instead of anxious silence, we have some tears of sadness that give way to many moments of laughter sharing memories and making new ones.
Give yourself permission to feel and express all of your feelings.
I used to be concerned that my feelings of sadness and anger would ruin the holidays. I found from talking to my family that all of us were grieving in ways we were unsure how to express. I learned that every time I allowed myself to feel sadness rather than hide it, I also found a moment of relief. If we give ourselves permission to experience sadness, we may find more feelings underneath that we felt to guilty or scared to show: joyful, powerful, and peaceful.
Give yourself permission to ask for love and support.
A few days ago, my daughter Alexandra asked me, "How are you doing?" It was my first instinct to answer "fine" and ignore why my daughter was checking in with me. Instead, I took that moment to really reflect on how Louis' anniversary was impacting me. It turns out that I didn't need support right then, and it felt good to know my daughter was giving me permission to name what I needed or what I was feeling. I try to surround myself with friends and family who are unafraid to see me cry. I invite you to give yourself permission to answer honestly when your friends or family ask, "How are you?"
Give yourself permission to remember.
Memorializing our loved ones is a process that begins at the funeral. It can be easy to feel like our loved one's violent death is overshadowing their life, especially when we receive shame and blame from our community. I invite you to give yourself permission to remember what you loved about them, and share with others what you learned from them.
Give yourself permission to give back.
As survivors, we feel so much pressure to properly honor our loved ones, and often we don't know how. Sometimes I ask myself what Louis would want for me, and that helps me to remember my purpose. As survivors we have so much to offer our families, our communities, and each other. Finding ways to share our gifts with the communities we care most about--be it our church, our school, our neighborhood--keeps hope and meaning in our lives. Give yourself permission to matter. Give yourself permission to make a difference.
If you are looking for a way to give back, I would ask you to make a donation to the Rest In Peace Fund. The Rest In Peace Fund helps families of murder victims who have no other way to pay for upfront funeral and burial costs after the unexpected and violent death of their loved one. My own family experienced an outpouring of resources after Louis was killed, and I want to make sure every single family is able to bury their loved one with dignity regardless of the circumstances. I invite you to donate twenty-two dollars to honor Louis' anniversary, or any other amount that is significant to you or to a loved one you've lost.
Thank you so much for your generosity of spirit, and all the gifts you give to your community.
In Peace and Prosperity,
Chaplain Clementina M. Chery
President and CEO
LDB Peace Institute