Yesterday, Veterans’ Day, I remembered my father, a World War II vet. Today, I want to remember my mother. The 35th anniversary of my mother’s death is fast approaching. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long, yet, it’s like it’s only yesterday.
There are almost all these lessons from yesterday. This lesson, my mother’s death, at 44, taken by cancer, doesn’t seem connected to the subject at hand. Why one’s mind may make seemingly unconnected connections is not as important as the connections made.
This lesson is from the world of restorative justice. I’ve been involved in the criminal justice world and work for more than 25 years. About five years ago I began some work revolving around long-term imprisonment and parole, and in this work a core group of criminal justice advocates reached out to advocates of “victims’ rights.” Oftentimes these two groups have been seen as advocating for separate and distinct things, but they’re not. Both are looking for a system of justice where victims are not slighted by the very system that prosecutes in their names, and those convicted of crimes are not stereotyped into non-humans.
The bottom line is that both groups are looking to realize a system of justice that is just.
In our conversations, what became quickly apparent was that we were talking about the same thing in different languages. We weren’t even sure what to call the main characters in the criminal justice narrative – “victims,” “survivors,” “perpetrators,” “offenders,” etc.
Inevitably, the language of “closure” came up. Criminal justice advocates have talked about “closure” in a way that has been translated by victims’ rights advocates as “get over it (the crime).” What, if anything, could be more insensitive?
In this moment, thanks to some great people seemingly on both sides of this issue, I got it. The lesson though came through my Mama. She died of cancer, not as the victim of a crime, and at the time of the conversations with victims’ rights advocates, my mother had been dead about 30 years. Was there closure for me? Emphatically, no. Then how, for a loved one whose life has been taken violently, could there ever be closure? How could people on “the other side” even presume such was a possibility? Then, I knew, I would never use that word in the same way.
One thing I learned from the death of my mother is that there’s never closure, that we simply learn to live with their physical absence from our lives, that each day the acceptance of this reality becomes a part of our reality, yet for survivors of crime, and their families, this “acceptance,” if I may call it such, is so much different and even more difficult.