Bringing P.E.A.C.E. to Heartbreak and Pain

Parents Encouraging Accountability & Closure for Everyone Bringing P.E.A.C.E. to Heartbreak and Pain

By Nanette D. Massey

“When a mother cries out we want to be there to help her. Who can do it better than us? Because we’ve walked that walk.” -Jacqueline Wells P.E.A.C.E. Volunteer

It is snowing on an April afternoon in Buffalo outside the window of the Sherman L. Walker Human Services Center at 680 William Street.

One of the organizations housed in this building is Parents Encouraging Accountability and Closure for Everyone,  better known as  P.E.A.C.E. The group  provides support and assistance to families who have lost a loved one to homicide. Its president and a founding member, Teresa Evans, lost her own 17-year old son in 1996. Volunteers Deborah Daniels and Jacqueline Wells lives have also been touched by homicides in their families.

Deborah has volunteered with the organization for the past three years. She became aware of the group when Jacqueline and Teresa knocked on her door the day after hearing of her son’s murder on the evening news. Their timing couldn’t have been better. Deborah remembered “feeling like I’m going to die because it hurts so much just to breathe.”

She was also dealing with an onslaught of law enforcement and media people whose purpose was anything but to assist her in her grief. They were just doing their jobs. Jacqueline and Teresa spoke to her in a way only others with similar experience can, helping her with what to expect next, how to navigate through various law enforcement channels, and making her aware of other victim services available to her in the region.

Jacqueline is a thirteen year volunteer. She joined  after experiencing two separate incidents involving two sons within four years’ time. When she found P.E.A.C.E., “I just needed a lot of answers I wasn’t getting from the people I had been in contact with. Teresa is a Rock,” she says of the organization’s president. “If it hadn’t been for her, I don’t know if I would have made it today.”

Accompanied by Teresa, Jacqueline traveled to a prison some years after her first son’s death to meet with his killer, a boyhood friend of her son before the shooting. Why the potentially hurtful face-to-face consultation?

“This boy slept, ate, and everything else in my home,” she said. “They were supposed to be friends, I needed to understand how this could happen. Knowing his background and his family, I could accept there was some truth in what he was saying. It made me have a little understanding and gave me some balance and closure.”

Having come full circle with her own pain, she volunteers believing “some good came out of my loss, (so)that I can help somebody else.”

“I want people to take us seriously,” says. founder Teresa Evans.  P.E.A.C.E. is more than just a group of people bonded by their common experience. “We are professionally trained in grief counseling,”

Founded in 2004, the organization is now in its 15th year of service.

The volunteers regularly travel the country and attend events and conferences, bringing information back to their Buffalo efforts. They’ve attended the National Alliance for Grieving Children conference, and regularly participate in support group facilitator training through Niagara County’s Mental Health Association in Lockport. Each year  in September for the past nine  years they host the local “National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims,” event.

Still, the center of the group’s strength is that each volunteer has been on the front lines of a homicide loss and is able to ally themselves with others currently experiencing the heartache in a way that is exclusive. ”

“It takes heart to truly support a surviving family,” says Daniels.  “What we do is from the heart. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. We let women know that we care.”

The suddenness and finality, the women agree, is what makes homicide death so unique to shoulder. Through a prolonged illness, there is the chance to talk with loved ones with some hope they can hear you even if they’re in a coma. However, says Daniels, “when the police come to your door, everything is cut off. When you kill someone you don’t just kill that person and it’s over. You have killed the history of a person’s family. Not only the past history, but the future history. People don’t understand the depth and the duration of the pain.”

“We don’t want pity or sympathy, we just want some understanding,” adds Wells. And they know that to be universally true. “When a mother cries out we want to be there to help her. Who can do it better than us, because we’ve walked that walk.”

The women want readers to know that one should never say something like “it’s time to get over it.” Years later a memory, a smell, or an anniversary can bring a genuine remembrance of the tragedy as if it were as fresh as yesterday.

“They say God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” says Deborah. “I believe He doesn’t give you the full impact of the death right away, otherwise you’d literally die of a broken heart. He gives it to us in stages.”

For this reason also, the women agree it is important not to dismiss a family member too soon after the funeral. Deborah continues:  “People are there for you but after the ceremony you’re left alone, while grief is a journey. Check on folks afterwards too.”

They recount another mother’s story of a neighbor who brought a cold cuts plate to her house more than a week after the funeral. Still processing her own grief, she’d lost the wherewithal to attend fully to the other children in the house and the food was a lifeline.

Teresa adds more heartfelt advice:  “don’t say ‘he’s in a better place.’ At seventeen years old, dead isn’t a better place.” Also, she cautioned, don’t ask for too many details. It is unnecessary to ask the family to relive the tragedy for your curiosity. And don’t judge the person’s death with something like “‘well, you know he was out here in these streets.” A mother doesn’t need to hear that,” she laments.

Still processing her own grief, she’d lost the wherewithal to attend fully to the other children in the house and the food was a lifeline. Teresa adds more heartfelt advice: “don’t say ‘he’s in a better place.’ At seventeen years old, dead isn’t a better place.

“Also, she cautioned, don’t ask for too many details. It is unnecessary to ask the family to relive the tragedy for your curiosity. And don’t judge the person’s death with something like “‘well, you know he was out here in these streets.” A mother doesn’t need to hear that,” she laments. P.E.A.C.E. volunteers offer group counseling in the stages of grief, a drop in support group, one on one support, information about other resources, and a host of services too numerous to include here.

The services are not limited to mothers and fathers. Any family member can reach out to them and expect knowledgeable and empathic help. Visit their web site at http:// www.peace-buffalo.org or call (716) 842-8700 for more specifics.

P.E.A.C.E. volunteers offer group counseling in the stages of grief, a drop in support group, one on one support, information about other resources, and a host of services too numerous to include here. The services are not limited to mothers and  fathers. Any family member can reach out to them and expect knowledgeable and empathic help.

Visit their web site at http://www.peace-buffalo.org or call (716) 842-8700 for more specifics.