It could be the policeman standing at your door. It could be the phone call in the middle of the night. It could be the moment the doctor walks out of the operating room towards you, looking grave. For many people who experience tragedy, they can divide their life into before and after. That moment, on the doorstep with the policeman, on the phone, in the hospital, suddenly unravels the world they knew and drops them into a nightmarish new reality in which a loved one is senselessly dead or has done something unimaginable.
Dona Cadman’s 16-year-old son Jesse was beaten and stabbed to death in a random encounter. Katy McIntosh’s husband Bob was kicked to death when he went to break up an unsupervised party. And Supriya Deas learned that her son Isaac had taken someone’s life – that of Jesse Cadman.
After Jesse Cadman was killed, Dona Cadman and her husband Chuck became advocates for victims’ rights. (Chuck Cadman eventually went into federal politics before his death in 2005.) Supriya Deas became an outcast in her community, judged for what her son had done. Isaac went to prison, becoming more violent and having little contact with his family. Supriya spent time in deep reflection. She says, “I had to take responsibility for myself, and learn to love [my son] unconditionally.” She also came to the conclusion that she needed to do more. “I was sorry about what happened, but saying ‘sorry’ over and over is not good enough. Sorry needs to be acted.”
So she moved to live within driving distance of the maximum security facility where her son was staying. She visited him for hours a day, five days a week, bringing spiritual books and teaching him to meditate. Isaac responded to this by developing more empathy, helping other inmates with their problems, and resolving to apologize to the Cadmans. He eventually met with Jessie’s sister Jodi as well as with Dona Cadman, and apologized to both of them for killing Jesse. Both ultimately forgave him.
Now, Supriya and Dona visit prisons and give public talks together, and plan to write a book together about restorative justice. Supriya says, “Wherever we go, we encourage people to take responsibility, to step up. It’s so easy to be trapped in fear, but we can’t stay there. If we live like that, then this murder took more than one life.”
On the morning after Bob McIntosh was killed, his wife Katy sat at the table with her four-year-old twins and told them, “Somewhere underneath all this, we will find a gift. I cannot imagine right now what it will be, but I promise we’ll find it.”
During the first of many media interviews following Bob’s death, Katy recalls, “I realized that I was not reacting the way society was expecting me to react. The reporter asked me what I wanted to see happen to the person or persons responsible for killing Bob. What I knew in my heart was I wanted to know everyone on all sides of the horrible tragedy would be ok. I didn’t want to witness any more violence or loss.”
She began to speak to schools and other groups about the risks of unsupervised alcohol use in youth. She also spoke about the transformative power of forgiveness.
It took five years for the police to uncover the person who killed Bob McIntosh. When Ryan Aldridge was charged in 2002, Katy (now Katy Hutchison) reached out to him. Ryan now joins Katy in many of her public presentations, having turned his life around and committed to helping others avoid making the bad choices he has made. Katy has told her story of grief and forgiveness in her book “Walking After Midnight”.
None of these people diminish for a moment the devastation of murder of a loved one. Yet they have found a way, after their worlds have shattered, to move forward and make something positive come from the devastation. It’s a powerful example we can learn from.