I was honored and humbled to be invited as a speaker for the July 26, 2018 candlelight vigil in remembrance of Janice Pockett and all the missing and unsolved homicides in Connecticut. It was a beautiful ceremony with a lovely crowd of family members, law enforcement, media, and community showing support. Here is my message:
Good Evening Everyone! It’s my great honor to be here, standing on this hallowed ground, a location which is a sacred, a beautiful place here in Tolland County, close to where it all began, for the adorable precocious, well-loved, blonde child, Janice Pockett — 45 years ago.
In that space of time, life has changed enormously. The 1960’s was a time of innocence, of simple pleasures in which families and children gathered, played and lived their lives with few cares or concerns compared to 2018. It was a time when bicycle riding and preserving butterflies were perfectly innocent wholesome, healthy activities for children.
However, what was “normal” then, has gone by the wayside today.
Such hard truths are forced upon us each and every day as we are exposed to the latest headlines.. It is a mental chore not to be brought down with each and every act of sadness, violence, immoral act, and seeming tear down of the fabric of our society.
However, I am here to tell you that even with the greatest sadness, there are new beginnings; stops, and starts along our paths. In fact, there is always a new path!
We may not have ever imagined the path. We may not have chosen it. We may not have ever known how difficult the terrain would be or that we could even stay on the new path. Some people call this “moral fiber”. Some people call this “endurance.”
What I am referring to is resilience, the psychological term meaning the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress and the ability to “bounce back” from such events.
As a homicide survivor after my father went missing and was murdered 37 years ago in Hartford, I have had to forge many new paths. I thought my “dance card with adversity” was totally filled after life necessitated many, many surgeries for two medical issues, virtually holding my childhood captive. However, it was not to be. At the age of 26, I stood on the precipice of educational opportunity having just finished graduate school. I thought it was my time to embark on a new career and independence. But, it was not to be.
My new normal had just begun….
A “new normal” is more than the person ripped from our lives… It’s more than the roller coaster emotions, It’s more than the a radically changed lifestyle that was not anticipated. It is about the process of healing and hope and has many variations!
Once a personal tragedy strikes you are never the same, but I can say with confidence after 37 years that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel.”
A sampling of a journey of resilience, the progression to healing and a new normal, may look like this…taken from and Dr. Barbara Whitfield’s research called “Victim, Survivor Thriver.”
In the beginning, a victim may feel low self-esteem, shame, unworthiness.
As a survivor they begin to see themselves as wounded and healing.
Down the road as a thriver, they see a new self as a miracle;
A victim is hyper-vigilant in the beginning. Gradually as a survivor they use tools to learn to relax, followed by gratitude for a new life;
A victim uses the outer world to hide; A survivor stays with their emotional pain; A thriver understands that emotional pain will pass and that their new normal brings new insights;
A victim hides their story, a survivor is not afraid to tell their story to “safe people.” A thriver goes beyond the telling and is always aware they have created their own healing with help;
A victim believes everyone else is better, stronger, less damaged. A survivor comes out of hiding to hear others, has compassion for them and eventually for themselves. A thriver lives with an open heart for self and others.
You can say to yourself, where do I fall on this continuum? Give yourself permission to be stuck. Any movement forward is part of post traumatic growth. It will take lots of time and tremendous energy…but I know you can get there! If you are here at this event, you are at minimum a survivor and on your way to thriving! Bask in this achievement!
The Numbers and Beyond
As of 2017, there were 651,000 records entered in the National Crime Information Center’s Missing and Unidentified Person Files (NAMUS), and 1,907, 657 file transactions. Of the 900,000 people who go missing in the U.S. yearly, 50,000 are over the age of 18.
In our State of Connecticut, there are at least 326 reported unsolved missing persons cases from available data. The numbers may shock and startle those who have no idea…
But, there is an award-winning national, all volunteer non-profit that has served missing persons proudly since 1994. I have been a Connecticut State Outreach Coordinator for the Community United Effort- CUE Center for Missing Persons for several years and am proud to report:
The CUE (Community United Effort) Center for Missing Persons was founded by Monica Caison, in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1994. Her inspiration for initiating the CUE Center began in childhood as one of 11 children, witnessing too many tragic events including several friends who went missing. She saw the need to assist the families of missing persons and unsolved homicides in a manner no one had done in the past. Monica focuses on each missing person by creating a customized approach to case management and strategic planning for search and recovery, emphasizing victimology, analysis of past efforts and available records. For each case she builds a network of assistance in collaboration with family, friends, law enforcement, the community, and her hundreds of trained volunteers.
Each year I attend the National Missing Persons Conference sponsored by CUE where families, advocates, law enforcement, experts, and volunteers of all kind gather. We learn about increasing public awareness, the benefits of registering a case to obtain assistance, and the access to expert resources from CUE Center and their partners. Families find this conference a “safe place” to socialize and network with others just like them, they find comfort in each other, and recognize that it’s safe to let your hair down, laugh, and enjoy themselves.
Many of those in attendance are just like you. They have a missing loved one, or their loved one has been recovered and they enter a different phase of the “new normal,” trying to find out what happened. Many recovered missing persons are victims of homicide, but families are not abandoned, the job isn’t over, CUE volunteers stay with them as they seek justice.
One of the most successful ways to attain maximum resilience is to reach out beyond yourself. Many times I’ve seen survivors of homicide, or family members of a missing person, give support to others. This is key to climbing out of bed some days, knowing someone in a similar, or worse, situation needs your help. Strength builds when someone holds you up, and, in turn, when you hold up someone else.
As time goes by, it becomes bittersweet with memories of a loved one lost. But, by moving forward on your own life’s journey, you find ways to honor and memorialize your loved one, never to forget. As we observe anniversaries the rituals we create bring us comfort, and by sharing our observations with others, we feel included. Remember, we may not always be as durable, strong, or flexible as we think we are, and there’s never shame in reaching out for a helping hand. That’s why I’m here today. I need to be with you, you need to be with me, and together we are forging through our “new normal” as others are here to support us in our weakest moments.
There is hope here today, hope for resolution to the many mysterious ways our loved ones have been taken away from us. There is hope that we will one day find the answers to our questions with breakthroughs in technology, and hope that we can carry on a legacy that will make our loved ones proud.
Finally, I’d like to say that in memory of Janice Pockett, we all are here to serve her memory and the many who have come after her. We are also here to appreciate and respect the many paths we have taken to find our missing pieces and bring them home.
Remember, when tragedy strikes, as in the lyrics of an acclaimed Broadway song,
“It’s not where you start, it’s where you finish….
It’s not how you go, it’s how you land…”
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