What it’s like to lose a loved one to gun violence

Las Vegas police respond during an active shooter situation on the Las Vegas Strip near Tropicana Avenue in Las Vegas Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017.

This article was originally posted on October 2, 2017 on al.com.

I peered over my grandfather’s casket, trying desperately to see – and wanting not to see – where the bullet hit his head.

The funeral parlor covered it with makeup, but I still imagine it’s there, all these years later.

I’m just a girl from Alabama who had a family member murdered. That doesn’t matter to most people on most days, but on days like today I want to believe it matters. On a day like today, maybe people will listen to what someone who has had an intimate, personal view of how gun violence feels.

My grandfather helped raise me. He was one of the kindest people I’ve ever known.

Today it’s hard for me to swim through the weight of the small things because I miss him so much. It’s difficult to eat, sleep, concentrate or contend with the unnerving dread in my stomach, because I know one thing for sure as I scan the news headlines, ignoring work deadlines:

This will happen again. And again. And again.

If a school full of dead children in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting five years ago didn’t change our country, I’m not sure what will.

Mass shootings make up a small portion of American gun violence, but whether it’s 1 or 100 people, does it really matter? If you think it does, sit and talk with me for a while. Let me tell you about the one life I lost to a bullet and how it has affected every single thing I do, from where I sit in public places to how I walk down the street and how I parent.

I’m a liberal Southerner who stands for the right to own a gun to protect myself and family. Yet in a country when a man can legally walk into a hotel with multiple fire arms then take aim at thousands at a concert, as if it were a shooting-spree video game, what do we expect? What do we expect when, in addition to that, our mental health care system is broken?

I don’t claim to be a gun or mental health expert. I’m an ordinary citizen who – like many of us today – has a broken heart for my fellow countrymen. I love this country, but we are not making it easy for me to. I’m tired and angry, and I’m tired of being angry. I’m sad. I’m sick of feeling sick.

I mourn for those in Las Vegas who have to see the crime scene – and let’s not call it anything other than that – where their loved ones died. The morning after my grandfather was murdered, in his own back yard, there was still blood covering the gravel and dirt outside. My cousins were sweeping it up, crying as they did. I stood by, unable to move.

Then I saw my grandmother, who was married over 50 years to this wonderful man, who was just shot in cold blood. She fell into my arms in a hug, unable to support her own weight, in shock.

She witnessed the crime, sitting next to my grandfather, as a stranger gunned him down outside their East Lake home.

“He didn’t have to shoot him,” she said between sobs.

How many people in Las Vegas are saying the same thing today?

“He didn’t have to shoot.”

My experience with gun violence changed me. At my daughter’s former school, I was alarmed that often the back door was not locked. I felt like I was overreacting when I talked with the principal. I am anti-death penalty, because I don’t want to be someone who takes a life. I worry about shootings in the most mundane, happy places (ice cream stores, book stores) and have for years. It’s a constant, invisible force.

On a day like today, maybe people will listen to what the family member of a victim of gun violence feels. Maybe I can open someone’s mind just a sliver. I hope so, because tomorrow the news cycle will change, life will go on, and people will forget.

Until next time.

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