A Letter to My Sister
My sister Suzy was shot and killed at King Soopers in March. Here are some things I want to tell her.
When I think of you, Suzy, I think of your fear of birds.
Your fear stemmed from a childhood trauma that happened while you were taking riding lessons at a farm that had a “pet” crow. This crow, possibly attracted by your red hair, had a habit of flying down and attacking you, pecking at your helmet while you were riding.
From then on, you and birds were never a good mix. Our grandfather and grandmother Campbell, ironically enough, owned and operated a pheasant farm. In the fall we were all tasked with moving the birds from the outside pens into the barn. Pheasants have no problem flying right at people, so it was a certain type of hell for you, and you were granted a pass most years on that fun event.
There is a spiritual belief that when you see a cardinal, it’s someone who has passed who wants you to know that they’re thinking of you. As the saying goes, “when cardinals appear, a loved one is near.” I’ve seen many cardinals lately, and it gives me great comfort to know that you’re looking out for me.
And, I must admit, I smile and chuckle a bit to think that you have returned to me in this realm as, of all things, a bird. And a red one at that!
On March 22nd, you went to a King Soopers in Boulder, Colorado, and never came back. You were murdered, along with nine other souls, while going about your day. You had stopped in for groceries after your hair appointment. It was the most normal and innocent of days—until it wasn’t.
You were a mother, an actor, a feminist, an activist, a friend. You were a Medicare insurance agent who helped people navigate that complicated system when they turned 65. You were one of the most welcoming people I’ve ever known, and a wonderful hostess. You could also be a pain in the ass. If you felt passionately about something, you would go to the mat defending your belief or position. But at the end of the day, you loved me and that was that.
Since that day, I’ve cried. A lot. Four months on it will still hit me from seemingly out of nowhere. I’ve seen a grief counselor a few times, which I guess has been helpful. Talking about you with family and friends certainly helps. People have been incredibly kind and understanding and sympathetic, but at the end of the day, the grief is personal. And in some ways I feel like letting go of the grief would be letting go of you—and I’m not ready to do that.
What I would like people to understand about your story, Suzy, is that we are not extraordinary. We are them. We are everyone. And if this can happen to you at the grocery store, it can happen to any one of us at any time. And that needs to change. As a society, we must decide that we don’t have to live like this.
I want our elected officials to know that when one of their family members is a victim of gun violence, they will feel differently about sensible gun legislation if they are currently opposed to it. The standard line of “thoughts and prayers” on one hand while voting down gun safety legislation and voting with the NRA on the other is hollow.
They can keep their thoughts and prayers. Action is what is needed, and empathy. Real empathy. There are good people in this world who are working hard to prevent the type of tragedy that happened to our family from happening to theirs.
If an elected official can do something to prevent this from happening to one of their own family members, how can they live with themselves knowing they did nothing to make things better? I would like them to internalize what happened to you, Suzy, and our family, so that it won’t happen to theirs. I would want that for them—even if they don’t.
What I most want to tell you, Suzy, is that I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that we live in a country that values its guns over its children and families. I’m sorry that as a society, we couldn’t keep you safe at the damn grocery store. I’m sorry that you will never become that eccentric old lady down the street who grows too many vegetables and is always giving away green beans or zucchini.
I’m sorry that you will never get to know your grandchildren if that day comes for Nate. I’m even more sorry that those kids won’t get to know you. They will never know the love that was stolen from them. You would have been the best grandmother.
My brother David and I were gifted three sisters: a blond. A brunette. And a redhead.
I miss my redheaded sister. Life just seems out of balance now.
But I will keep looking for cardinals, and keep smiling, because I know you’re near.
JOIN THE FIGHT
Gun violence costs our nation 40,000 lives each year. We can’t sit back as politicians fail to act tragedy after tragedy. Giffords brings the fight to save lives to communities, courthouses, and ballot boxes across the country—will you stand with us?