How one victim of murder chose to be a survivor
December 25th, 2005… Christmas, like every Christmas since we were born, was spent together under one roof from the 24th to the 26th. As we raised our glasses during our Christmas meal to give thanks for all that we had, we could never have imagined that the acts of another human being two days later could bring such pain and devastation to this loving and happy family.
On December 27th, 2005, just one week before her daughter Anna’s first birthday, my 36- year- old sister, Paula Anne Gallant, was violently murdered. Her lifeless body was put in the trunk of her car which was then driven to her elementary school just minutes from her home. Her car, with her dead body in the trunk, was later discovered by family. Life as we knew it was redefined in the most horrific and unimaginable manner possible. Someone living amongst us made a choice to end Paula’s life. To end her career as a teacher and artist. To end her role as a mother, friend, sister, aunt, and so much more.
Shock, disbelief, numbness, isolation, indescribable pain, confusion, fear, an inability to function… You keep hoping you are going to wake up and it will be the same as it was before the nightmare. Then, you look into your children's eyes, into the eyes of those who have filled your home and you know it is real. Sobs fill the silence. You pray that darkness will not fall. You don’t want your friends to ever leave your kitchen because then you know you will be left alone to feel. It is like your body is consumed with concrete and you cannot move. You barely breathe. You know it is worse than you ever thought possible.
Chaos exists, but not like the hectic chaos we all live daily. It is a solemn, subdued, eerie chaos. We all sit waiting. Not knowing what to do or when to do it. The phone rings constantly and we just hope someone on the other end will help us.
Over three years have passed since that horrible, senseless day Paula’s voice was silenced through murder. As if the loss is not painful enough, we also continue to live without closure or justice for this violent crime. This is as agonizing as the crime itself. Knowing the person responsible is living freely among us. You are consumed with one thought: how are we going to survive this nightmare?
In the first couple of weeks, the numbness and pain is crippling but hope is prevalent. Hope that justice will come quickly so our efforts can be focused on healing. But as time passes, you are presented with the harsh realities of the situation. Once you are able to absorb this reality, the challenge becomes “getting on with life” and redefining “normal” without Paula, with an altered family structure and with the acceptance the killer lives freely in our society. It is the hardest thing I have ever been faced with in my life and there is no handbook or blueprint to guide and provide the required support. You are exposed to the learnings of a life experience one should never have to endure and you look to everyone for answers, for closure, for justice, for peace.
The first half of the second year was a continuation of the first year. The pain was as raw, the frustration as exhausting, the need for answers as consuming. But just as the murderer had the free will to make the choice to silence Paula, I too realized at some point in year two that I had the free will to choose to either be a victim or be a survivor. In choosing to survive, I could not only be Paula’s voice, but the voice for all women who have lost their lives to violence or continue to be victims of violence.
I also realized I had the opportunity, through my experience, to become an advocate for all victims of murder in the hopes of improving the levels of support and types of services provided. It was a turning point for me in this journey and although I knew it would be a daunting undertaking, I felt it would give meaning to Paula’s death.
Trying to drive change is not easy. I hit one roadblock after another and felt even more isolated as I came to realize my voice as a victim of murder was weak. It would be so easy to just walk away. But through the love, support and encouragement of my family, friends, our communities, the media and so many others, I knew this would become my lifelong purpose.
In 2008, when I was preparing information for an event called
Standing Up Against Violence Against Women” during Family Violence Prevention
Week, I came across the following quote which is now my guiding principle:
“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Edward Everett Hale
“cannot refuse to do the something I can do”. I have experience
as my foundation, Paula as my strength, society as my support, and my free
will to choose to survive and make a positive contribution. I guess one
could say I have evolved through this nightmare and now have the clarity, confidence
and steadfast determination to be a strong voice for Paula, for all who have
lost their lives to violence and to the victims of murder who represent the
I cannot change what happened to Paula, nor can I bring her back. I cannot make the last three years any easier or wave a magic wand and get the justice Paula deserves, but I can try and drive change. Change that gives victims the required support to get through the maze with expert guidance, empathy, dignity, respect and, most importantly, the ability to one day heal. Change that makes society more aware and less tolerant of violence. It should not be an acceptable norm.
And so as I drove from Paula’s grave on Christmas Day 2008, filled with sorrow, I realized how far I had come and I knew I would survive and be the voice society would some day embrace.
In Memory of my sister, Paula Anne Gallant
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