Look What Has Happened to Us

I still can't describe my own feelings fully. Nausea, disgust, fear, confusion, and grief overwhelmed me. Our friend and housekeeper, Angela, lay on the floor of my daughter's room. The blood from her brutalized body pooled around her. The days and weeks that followed were a blur of a life upended. Our home was now a crime scene.

We miss her, she had made her mark on our lives. Her quirks and her kindness had become a part of our story and our family. Her laughter had filled our home. Her absence is a sad, scary shadow. The home we had shared is no longer home. We cannot live there. "Was anything stolen?" the young policeman asked. A life was stolen. No, more than one life was stolen. There was one dead body, but so many lives were changed irrevocably, snatched away, stolen. Sometimes I feel sad for the murderer, unutterably sad. At other times I feel angry. How could anyone be so vile? How could any person be so brutal? Why Angela? What harm had she done anyone? There are moments when the anger turns to rage, and there are moments when I want to strike back!

I had no idea of all the pieces involved in living through something like this. It takes a demolition to see the bones of a building. It's like somebody had blasted away the veneer and I could see all the tracery of connections. We are so deeply connected to one another -- our family, Angela, Angela's family. The reverberations are vast and ceaseless.

I had landed in grief and guilt. I heard the screams of Angela's mother and children on the phone. How do you ever recover from hearing that kind of anguish, those wails of pain and loss? But I felt it was my responsibility to tell them. They had so many questions, and it was so difficult because they didn't get to see her. I saw her.

At first there was just grief and guilt, but then the fury came. This person not only stole Angela's life, they stole our freedom and our sense of safety, our sense of place and even our home. We can never go back there.

The fury still comes and goes. I hear so many voices and questions in my head. I feel like I've lost the power to protect my children and keep them safe. How did evil get so close to my children? How did I let it get so near? As a mother, it's a horrible feeling. I can't make the world safe for them. It makes everything feel so out of control. I have so much fear and so much anxiety and always this sadness and grief mixed in and touching everything and everyone.

But somewhere within discovering the texture and quality of my hurts, of pulling apart the strands of what I was feeling and giving them the attention they needed, I also realized that I'm sad for the person who killed her. Can you imagine what it would take for someone to kill another person so brutally and not have it affect their psyche? When you harm another, you also harm yourself.

I can tell you this feeling of sadness and empathy for the murderer was something of a shock to me, and I believe this was my personal open door to forgiving. It was only after I engaged in all the formal rituals for grieving and leaned on those who could validate my anger and fear, and after I was able to connect with my community and all who came together to share my loss with me, that I was able to consider forgiveness. Ritual helps us heal, and ritual helped me heal and become ready to consider the person who murdered Angela, their story, their pain. Ultimately, I knew I had to find a way to rewrite the story of our connection so that my family did not remain trussed and bound to the carnage this person created.

Most of the time I feel as if I've forgiven the killer. I don't wish this person comeuppance. I feel profoundly sad for this person and for all of us. I've accepted the facts of what happened and the ripple effects of the trauma. There are moments, however, when the trauma of Angela's death resurfaces in our family, and I feel all the anger and rage and sadness acutely, but this doesn't mean I don't forgive. I've had to realize that I forgive not for the perpetrator, but for my daughters to heal, for me to heal, and for all of us to go on and live our lives without fear and hatred being the defining details. The story of Angela's murder and her murderer will always be a part of our story, a part of my daughters' childhood, but I forgive, so that it is not the main plot of our life story, and so that we can go on to write new stories, better stories, happier stories.

I still have this incredible sadness. We all do. I can't know whether to renew or release the relationship? I don't know. The truth is, I'm not there yet.

I have forgiven the person who killed Angela. She was killed by another human being, a person with a story too. It's our story now. And Angela's story. And her family's story. There are so many individual stories, but we share this one story. That's the biggest difference I've seen in this forgiveness process. It's gone from "my story" to "our story." It's no longer about my pain, but our pain. There is a comfort in that, a solace.

Intellectually, I have forgiven, and I know this because I have no desire to exact retribution, nor do I wish them ill. The killer does not owe me anything. Emotionally, I'm not quite there yet, because it still hurts, and I know there is still healing work to be done.

Whoever is ultimately proven to have killed Angela, I know it would help move things along more quickly if I could know why this person did what they did. I want to know what they were thinking and why they couldn't have asked for help for whatever they were going through. Why did Angela have to pay such a price? How was her life worth so little to him?

I think I would also need to know that what this person did matters to them. I would need to know that they wrestle with the fact that they took a life. I would want to know if their soul hurts and is pained by what they have done. It won't change anything, but it will help me understand. I would want to understand this person so that I can know what we need to do differently, so that no one gets to such a place of desperation that a thing becomes more important than a life.

If I could speak to the person who killed Angela, I would tell them that I don't have the words to say just how sad I am. I would say, "Look what has happened to us."

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and the Tutu Global Forgiveness Challenge, which is a free 30-day online program developed by Desmond and Mpho Tutu to teach the practical steps to forgiveness they share in their new book, The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. Learn about the campaign here, and sign up to participate yourself. Read all posts in the series here.