Last week was National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and the theme across the country was Strength, Resilience, Justice. I was honored to be asked to participate as a speaker at the Indian River County’s 25th Annual Victims’ Right Vigil. I was surrounded by strength and reminded what resiliency looks like.
Every year, across the country, people come together at vigils just like this one. But for many families, that singular night is no different from the night before. It will be very much like the following night. It is wonderful to come together in solidarity – to see so much community collaboration and celebration. To see strength in numbers – to see hope in a strangers eyes; the understanding. But for most of us who have the word “VICTIM” as part of our narrative, we think day in and day out about the person we lost too soon. We know the story about gun violence, murder, drug overdose, suicide, drunk driving –not as a report on the nightly news, but as the histories of our loved ones who have been taken from us. We do not attend vigils to remember “victims” – gather to remember sons, daughters, mothers, fathers – our friends and our influencers. They cannot be categorized or labeled. They are laughter and tattoos and home cooked meals and boxes of photos and worn out clothing we will never throw away. The ones we remember are the ones that help us not take for granted the gifts we are given every day. Especially,on the days that we want to give up. Which is often.
I was brutalized my entire life. Beaten, raped, and mentally destroyed. I am considered a “victim”. My story isn’t pretty and many times I was told I was garbage – so I tried to throw myself away like garbage. But I saw so many people I adored die, so many others who didn’t have the choice I had – the choices we all have right now…to live. To embrace life – to celebrate it for all of its ups and downs and in doing so, keep the memory alive of all those sweet, dear people we lost.
So our stories may be different. Our loss may be different. But our mission is the same – we must be united as survivors – empower each other to use our voices and carry each other to be the best we each can be. Not just at vigils or designated weeks but every night. And every morning –that is how we honor those we lost. We deserve it. They deserve it. I believe they are watching us.
Mindi Fetterman is the Founder & Executive Director of The Inner Truth Project, giving a voice to survivors of sexual violence. www.innertruthproject.org