Memorial walk for MMIWGB2S+ shifts, becoming more inclusive

Linda John has lost two of her children to violence.

First, her baby boy, David, and then, her daughter, Hylena Rivera, in 2011.

It never gets easier, she says, as she told her story before a large crowd at Veteran’s Park for the 3rd annual memorial walk for MMIWGB2S+ hosted by Ganohkwasra Family Assault Support Services.

There was love in the chilly Valentine’s Day air last Wednesday during the walk through Ohsweken but it was a different kind of love – the Love Starts With Us program counsellor at Ganokhwasra, which extends love to all community members affected by loss.

Amber Silversmith, the love starts with us counsellor, said, “We always say that this program is built on the individuals that feel the effects (of loss) the most. We’re really thinking we needed to start including our men. It was time to start thinking about balance in our community. It meant inclusion of our men. It meant inclusion of the LGBTQS+ community.”

So John spoke of her baby boy who died of shaken baby syndrome before he even had a chance to experience life.

“I don’t look anymore at Valentine’s Day as a day of Valentine’s cards,” she said. “I look at it as reaching up to the stars as far as I can and sending my prayers to my children who have been taken away from me. It took me some time, lots of time to stand up here. I don’t want to trigger anybody. My story isn’t a story of tragedy. Mine is a loved one. I know he’s here with me today because this month marks 30 years he’s been taken from me, his sisters, his brother, his grandmother, his aunts and uncles. My message here today is no matter how long, our hearts are going to be broken.”

For a while, John said, she tried to numb the pain with alcohol, discreetly.

“I struggled in the beginning because I didn’t know what to do. If I could just numb my pain with alcohol, I don’t have to feel no more.”

She said she felt she had nothing left to live for after losing her boy.

“I knew later on down the road my son would look down on me and say that’s my mom down there honouring me,” she said, and she eventually quit drinking.

“I can’t touch him,” she said, “but I can close my eyes and I can still remember what he looks like. Am I angry? I was. I was so angry.”

But the outpouring of support she’s received and the love she’s receive has helped.

She learned how to cope using the teachings in the Love Starts Among Us program, how to breathe, how to embrace the past.

“I stand strong when it comes to mental health for men, for women. We don’t have to live like this.We can love each other because love is medicine. Love conquers.”

In 2011, she experienced profound loss a second time.

“My daughter was murdered. I was robbed then again.”

Her daughter shared a song that helped her cope with healing from the loss while others who experienced loss listened somberly, holding pictures of their loved ones lost to violence.

Participants also signed up for a new men’s support program that Ganohkwasra is offering.

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