Last night I stuck around after work for a few hours for my first encounter with the speakers bureau of murder victims families, a program called Sharing Our Stories: Murder Victims’ Families Speak (S.O.S.). Every two months S.O.S. meets to build fellowship with one another and practice presenting their very personal and tragic family stories. The bureau is intended to go out into the community and present their stories and share why, even through their tough experiences, they are opposed to the death penalty.
Shane was the presenter at yesterday’s meeting. He shared the story of the killing of his brother Tim when Shane was just a teenager. Shane was overcome with anger and lived a very destructive life for many years following his brother’s murder. He didn’t know how to cope with his feelings of pain and his desire for revenge. He turned to drugs, drinking, and violent behavior. He was pro-death penalty and was furious when his brother’s killer only received a life sentence. What made his brother’s death less worthy of the maximum punishment?
Shane ended up going to law school to be a prosecutor with intent to try as many capital cases as he could. His third year of law school he took a class on the death penalty. His eyes were opened to the brokenness of the capital laws and at this time his emotional argument for the death penalty was overshadowed by the legal argument against it.
Somewhere within that time frame, Tim’s murderer had a heart attack in prison and died. Shane was surprised to realize that this man’s death gave no relief to his pain. He was overcome with a feeling of disappointment rather than the feeling of justice that he had anticipated. One night Sean’s heart transformed when his brother visited him in a dream. Tim and Sean were sitting at the breakfast table having an everyday type conversation. Tim said to Shane, “Shane, don’t let my death consume your life. Go make the world a safer place for my children.” (Tim had two surviving kids).
When Shane shared these words I became teary-eyed. I can’t imagine and really don’t want to imagine experiencing the loss that Shane has but to see his drive to better humanity for the memory of his brother and the lives of his niece and nephew touched my heart. It took Shane many years to heal, but he chose to better this world by working as an attorney focusing on death penalty issues.
In our society, we expect that all families of murder victims support the death penalty. Initially everyone would have to feel insulted, overwhelmed, heartbroken, fearful, sad, angry, etc. etc. if their family was hurt. We are humans. We have rash reactions to any traumatic experience especially ones that test our comforts or hurt our loved ones. Through hearing stories like Shane’s, I am seeing a greater light at the end of a dark, dark tunnel of sadness. Healing that comes only through forgiveness; healing that comes only through time; and the realization that the hatred for that murderer can consume our lives forever, but it will never bring back that loved one we’ve lost. I believe that Tim visited Shane in his dream because he did not want his death, the way he died, to continue to consume Shane’s life. He wanted Shane to remember the way he had lived and the way he loved his family.
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