The following is a speech written by a survivor for the Arizona State Memorial Service in May 2010. Thank you for sharing your heart and strength with us.
It started out as a typical Tuesday morning. I awoke to the sounds of sportscasters in the kitchen… my husband Nick having forgotten to turn off the television before leaving for work. I helped my sons get ready for the day, dropped off my oldest in his first grade classroom and headed back home with my three-year old. It was a beautiful September day.
And then, without warning, without permission, a single moment in time changed my life forever.
Nick’s murder was not an event that broke me in two. No, I was not broken: I was shattered. This was a loss so tragic, so unexpected, and so wrong that there were no words, no deeds, and no amount of time that could simply put me back together. My life was in ruins.
We did not ask nor did we want this new reality we are forced to face. In our anger and grief, we may be tempted to try to recreate what was lost. We may try to paste together the pieces of our lives that are still somewhat intact, but we find the edges have changed and the pieces no longer fit the same way.
Like shards of glass, there are many pieces that are far too small and far too damaged to simply glue into place. And then there are the holes… the chunks of our lives that have gone missing and seem too large and too important to simply live without.
And so we are forced to examine each piece, each tiny and fragile part of our shattered lives in the hopes that we can build a new mosaic, a new life worth living.
But mastering a new life is far from easy. As I have worked on fashioning my new existence, I have found there are parts of me that I must discard. The anger over injustice, the rage against unfairness… these were parts of me that helped get me through the first few months of intense heartache, but left me bitter and empty and unable to find the better parts of me I thought I had lost.
I found I needed to reshape some of the shards, to soften my reactions, to find patience, particularly with my children and with myself. But the hardest part has been the work I needed to do to fill in the gaps, the places that had previously been overrun with laughter and joy.
And though this journey has not been easy and at times still seems overwhelming, I am finding that I now have a new portrait of my life. And while this portrait is vastly different from the one I painted prior to my tragedy, it is not less-than the previous one.
Yes, the lines are jagged, the colors more intense, the textures quite rough, but it is my canvass, my labor, my work of art and one I am now proud to display.
All of you – survivors – are sculpting a new you. And just like every artist before you, you will have to face your critics. Some may judge you harshly for the realism you portray and others, perhaps some who are your own family and friends, will fail to understand the new form of art in front of them.
But do not let those voices interfere with the work you must do. Yes, your canvass will be filled with the colors of pain and sorrow and the shapes of anger and fear but over time, those colors will fade. The brightness of hope will take hold, and the intensity of joy will take shape.
No, this portrait was not the one you wished for or worked for or ever chose to create. But it is your new work as a survivor, and I encourage each of you to take the time you need to sift through the ruins, examine the pieces, fill in the gaps and create another beautiful you.
By Julie Erfle – Spouse of Phoenix Police Officer Nick Erfle who was killed in the line of duty on September 18, 2007.