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WRC hosted our 29th annual Candlelight Vigil

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Each year, we commemorate DVAM with a candlelight vigil, which remembers those who were killed in domestic violence homicides in Georgia over the last year.

At this year's vigil, our board member Alice Gamble told us about her sister Lara. Lara’s death at the hand of her estranged husband is what led Alice to seek us out and offer her help. Here is what she shared:

“It was 1985, and my 25-year-old sister Lara had finally left the husband we suspected was abusing her with a vague ‘when he finally did it in front of Melissa’ - her eldest daughter - she knew she had to go. She had always been good with little children. Her entire world revolved around her girls – Melissa almost 3 - and Alicia 15 months. Her frail body was their jungle gym. She said she had two hands – one for each child.

“Her husband certainly exhibited all the stereotypical red flags of an abuser: he isolated her, he punched walls and destroyed belongings, before their marriage he once pretended to shoot himself when she tried to leave him. He was possessive and controlling, and my once vivacious sister walked on eggshells. She seemed trapped and afraid – always rushing to get home from work and picking up the kids in order to have dinner on the table by the time he arrived. Yet even as she was leaving him to start fresh - move home - and go back to school, she asked his family to take care of him.

“Then we received the call that he had brutally murdered her.

“I have this photo of her at a wedding the weekend between moving out and being killed. The last photo I believe to have been taken while she was alive. I imagine her thinking of starting a new and better life for her children… And how that dream was cut short.

“After trials and custody fights, many other indignities and an overturned conviction, we offered a reduced charge in exchange for Lara’s beloved girls. He did not hesitate.

“So we were left to piece our lives together – not back the way they were – but to the new reality. Melissa and Alicia and Lara’s dreams of a new life for them were our focus: Never lie to the girls, but only provide as much information as they could understand. Fear for the safety of Lara’s girls and a desire that they flourish. A community physically and spiritually helped us bear our burdens – sending food and supplies, simplifying our lives by running errands and nurturing Lara’s children. And sending so many flowers. Lara, like those flowers, had been fragile and beautiful – and we now knew she was also like the flowers in that she was wonderful to behold and too soon gone. We tried to be normal – school, dance recitals, library visits, Sunday school, theater… cemetery visits - and to try to make sense of the tragic course that her life had taken. But Lara’s death changed us all.

“The girls will never know their loving and charismatic mother, except through our stories. My beautiful, smart, creative, free-spirited sister who could talk to anyone, who was kind to everyone and brought home strays, and whose funeral filled a church to overflowing. Who had a loose relationship with the truth, who bucked norms, who introduced me to all the cool 70s music, who laughed with her entire body – who married this man because he wanted to marry her so badly.

“I’m happy to say Melissa and Alicia are thriving. And I see Lara reflected in her daughters and her grandchildren. I vividly remember riding in the hearse between the funeral and the burial and discussing how the most important thing now was to keep them safe and ensure they had the self-esteem to not find themselves in a similar situation.

“That was naïve. Domestic violence can affect anyone. Our mother had been a founding member and chairman of the Board of a temporary women’s shelter since the 70s, and so my family was very aware of the potential and signs of abuse. Our father was the most steadfast, dedicated, boy-scout of a man, modeling devotion to family and gentleness.

“The ripple effect of Lara’s death is ongoing and widespread - in our relationships, our priorities, our grief. Our lives are forever changed. My parents - who were planning for retirement - raised another generation of girls. My mother never fully recovered and still declines on Lara’s birthdays and the anniversaries of my sister’s death. My father felt guilt until he died for not protecting Lara, apologizing to her during his final hours in hospice while he hovered between plains. I would otherwise be living in New England married to my college beau – rather than with survivor’s guilt and what Natasha Trethewey calls ‘the wound that never heals’. And Melissa and Alicia, raised by their grandparents, grew up with the impact and history of this as a formative experience of their life stories.

“I am honored to have been on the Board of this amazing organization for three years. This is my 4th vigil. I have considered telling my sister’s story – but I could not decide what the lessons learned or the message of it is. Eventually I came to admit that it was senseless and there never will be a point …and that sometimes remembering and telling is enough.

“I’ve spent hours wondering why my sister did not reach out to us. Was it shame? Concern about judgment? or Wanting to protect him? So IF I have a message tonight – part of it is that I hope you will be supportive of the people in your lives: leave the door open, be a sounding board, a safe haven, provide an out.

“We cannot undo the past. All that is left is memories, and advocacy. Be an active bystander. If you observe any of the red flags (control and fear in a relationship through physical, sexual, emotional, and/or financial abuse) do not hesitate to intervene or reach out to an appropriate person who can. Support an organization – such as the Women’s Resource Center – which is working to keep families safe and to reduce future occurrences of domestic violence.

“Seek help if YOU need it. Reach out to someone.

“Finally, I tell our story in remembrance of my sister Lara and for her family. We still miss and love you, Lara, and still think about all the ‘what ifs.’”

To view the video of our vigil, visit this link:

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