Parents of Murdered Children

When tickets became available for “The Dark Knight,” I was the first in line. I absolutely could not wait to see the movie. I admit that I don’t remember much about the beginning. What I do remember in crisp and impeccable detail was the chill of the Joker’s personality, the uncaring and unfeeling perception he had of violence. I remember a particular scene when the Joker asks the watchful detective, “Do you know why I use knives? Guns are too quick. You can’t savor all the little emotions. You see, in their last moments people show you who they really are.”

I was frozen in place at that moment, unable to tear myself away from his expression. His look of complete insanity and satisfaction was one that I recognized. It was the same look that I had seen on the face of the man who had murdered my uncle two months previously.

I never finished the movie because I ran out into the lobby heaving and sobbing. That February, my uncle was murdered by the jealous ex-boyfriend of the woman he had been dating. The woman had flaunted the way my uncle treated her to her abusive ex-boyfriend. When he had had enough, he decided to take control of the situation and waited in my uncle’s house to stab him.

Upon hearing the news, everything in my world changed. I became part of an elite club that no one wanted membership into. It became a battle to get through the day, cringing every time someone used the words “stabbed” or “killed” and being afraid of large knives. I had experienced family deaths previously but nothing could compare to this pain.

People say that pain is pain; you can’t measure or compare it with others. To be honest, that is a lie. To lose a loved one in an accident or to disease is awful, but you will heal from that. You will tell yourself that it was his time, that he was at peace with his life and that he felt no pain. You can accept that it was fate and a natural part of life.

But my pain finds no such peace; it is hard and heavy and always present. My loved one was not lost to a train accident or to old age; my loved one was murdered outside his home. It was not peaceful — it was full of pain, panic and blood. It was unnatural and chaotic. I often wonder what he felt, was he scared or sad? I used to think that the details would help me grieve. Knowing the amount of wounds, how the murderer entered the house and where he had been killed would help me move on. Yet two years later, I am still waiting to understand my pain.

The thing that I often forget is that I am not the only one who feels this heavy weight on my chest. I am not alone. I had not heard of the organization “Parents of Murdered Children” until the summer of this year. Both nervous and curious, I was compelled to meet with this chapter in Orange County. Driving through Brea, I arrived at my interview with Marie Belmontez, Orange County’s chapter president. We met at the Memorial Monument dedicated to loved ones lost to violent crimes. Made of marble and inscribed with the names of those lost, I was instantly connected with all those who had visited before.

Marie understood everything. I didn’t have to hide anything about my past and my family, and I didn’t have to be strong. I could sit comfortably with her as we shared with one another the moments that defined us the most — our loss and pain – without ever having to apologize for our emotions.

In July of 2000, Marie lost her nephew when a fight got out of hand at a party he attended with his friends. In January 2001, Marie joined POMC, an organization that provides families with a safe space to meet and communicate with others in the same situation. There, she was able to find the support she and her sister needed.

With new members joining the group every month, Marie, who has been a chapter leader for seven years, kept up with the group because of the reassurance she received from all of the survivors’ stories. “I had other losses in my family, but I was feeling things differently and I kept thinking what was wrong with me and that nobody understood. Then having met and heard stories over and over, I saw it wasn’t unusual.”

POMC is a national organization started in 1987 and now provides assistance to over 100,000 survivors each year. In the Orange County area, POMC meets the second Wednesday of every month and provides its members with information on surviving their loved ones’ deaths, along with special speakers and newsletters. For most survivors, like Marie and myself, the most helpful support is talking to others about the ones we love.

“I have heard that people are afraid that their loved ones will be forgotten because they don’t talk about the ones that are gone anymore,” Marie said. “Keeping them remembered, honoring their memory, being able to talk about them is very healing. It is helpful,”

A special feature of this organization is that members of the group accompany one another’s families during the court hearings and trials. There are 50 to 100 active members, with many people working behind the scenes on newsletters and remembrance cards. The largest event is celebrated during April’s Victim’s Rights Week, to pay due to those lost to violence. At this time, families gather around the Memorial Monument in Memory Garden to add names to the monument and hold a candlelight vigil. It is through this organization that families have been able to begin healing from their tragedy while continuing to honor the lives of those most important to them.

Though my journey through this tragedy has seemed endless, I have become stronger from it. I still think of my uncle every day and wish that he were here to see me graduate, get published and get married. I hope that he would be proud. I still wait for him to come through the door during family dinners, to fill the room with his booming laugh and feel the warmth of his giant bear hug.

Maybe the waiting will never go away but the pain lightens. I believe this because through all of the pain, the tears and the heaviness I have endured, I have become a survivor.