We have been thrown blindly into a war in which we never wanted to fight. They entered our lives like a thief in the dark; they not only took our loved one, they also made a declaration of war upon our souls. Did they not expect us to react when they took our loved one from us? Did they think we would sit idly by and watch justice slip away? This was your Pearl Harbor, a blind attack from nowhere. You weren’t prepared for the horror, but you were forced to fight.
Sometimes it is a short battle for justice where someone is caught and the criminal justice system is able to secure a conviction and the person is sent away for a long time. Other times, it can be a very long and drawn out ordeal for those survivors seeking justice for their loved ones. For those cases that go unresolved for years, the toll on the survivors is devastatingly painful to endure. These battles can also have multiple fronts and you may feel like you are fighting in many directions. The perpetrator may be free and you battle the fear of retaliation. You may have a case that simply lacks any viable physical evidence; a battle with frustration can wear on one’s soul. In some cases, the police don’t work the case as they should for a myriad of reasons; the battle of apathy can be one of the most vicious on the survivors. How does one engage in these battles for months and years? How does one find peace when justice is absent? How do you maintain sanity in an insane situation? These are questions many survivors have asked many times before.
My war started on Thursday, September 20, 1990 in Mendota, Illinois when my sister vanished without a trace. She disappeared in a 25 foot span of space from our garage, where she parked upon returning home from work, to our home. In the initial investigation it was found that her boyfriend made self-incriminating statements that indicated he had murdered my sister. His comments could not constitute a confession because no body was found and there were no signs of struggle. The first front in my war was established. As her case made its way through the trenches of the legal system many mistakes were made and her case became political. Her case suffered further battle wounds as did the hearts of those who loved Veronica. Now I had 2 battle fronts going in this war. The case drug out for an inordinate length of time and we often went years with no word from the police but they would always say her case was being investigated actively when they were questioned about the progress. In 2004 a new investigator was placed in charge of her case, my 3rd battlefront was established. The new investigator dated my sister at one point and we as a family felt there was a conflict of interest since there was a relationship between the victim and the investigator. Rumors had spread around town that he was possibly involved in her murder which added to the stress of this war. I am still in the trenches of this war 21 years and four months later, I continue in my fight for justice for my sister.
Today, I consider myself a battle scarred veteran of this 21 year war. The devastatingly sad part is that I am not alone; there are tens of thousands in my position. We suffer from battle fatigue from our individual wars. Our scars are not visible on the outside; but if you could see our souls, then the scars would be blatantly obvious. We walk around as wounded warriors and many walk past us with no awareness of our wounds. How do we survive? How do we survive this war? How do we find peace when there is no justice? Survivor battle fatigue can wear one out both physically and emotionally. It can manifest into physical ailments and a high percentage of survivors suffer from chronic illnesses. The psychological trauma often has the power to change thought patterns and beliefs as well as the increase of psychological disorders such as PTSD and a state of constant hyper vigilance.
There is no easy answer to these quandaries many survivors face. The trenches of this war are filled with perils and obstacles. The only way to really get through this war is one day at a time. You are going to have many bad days, but you will also have good days. Realizing you don’t have a lot of control at this point is difficult to face, but it is the reality. Adding to your battle wounds by beating yourself up over areas you cannot control is a common survivor problem. Letting go of things out of your control will help you manage emotions much easier and it will reduce stress on your mind and body. Nature can be an effective healer to the human spirit; immersing yourself in the tranquility of nature will allow your mind to rest some from the busy world around you and give you a moment of peace. Cherishing those brief moments of peace is beneficial to your soul because it keeps hope for longer periods of peace alive. Helping others can help rebuild that human connection and trust; it can even be small acts of kindness that help ease your mind.
There is no magic trick that will ever totally erase the pain you feel from the devastating loss you have experienced. It is truly a battle in which you have been forced to face, but peace is possible. You will never be the same person and you will have a new reality to live in, but building new bridges and connections are essential for survival. If you are having debilitating psychological issues years after the homicide, you may also need to seek a professional for help. It is not a sign of weakness to see a professional; it is a sign of strength. Time alone will not heal your wounds; it is what you do with that time that matters. Your life was changed forever on that date but you made it through the ordeal, you may be badly scarred, but you have survived. Abraham Lincoln once said: “I am not concerned that you have fallen; I am concerned that you arise.” Mustering the strength to rise can be monumental, but it is possible.