This is a post I wasn’t sure how to start. Or if I would even write it.
I wasn’t sure what I would say. Or how I would say it. Or if I would say the wrong thing.
I wasn’t sure how I could put into words what it means to have someone you love, taken from you by a senseless act of violence. How can I describe what it’s like for, in one instance, my cousins to no longer have parents?
Just like that, everything they have ever known… stripped from them.
But I feel like saying nothing? Saying nothing is not my style.
I share my thoughts on almost every part of my life with you and so this topic is no different.
This story, this horrible event, this tragedy in our family… is no secret. It was all over the news stations and being talked about by everyone in their town. Some of the details are private and I won’t be sharing those, but some of the details have already been made public.
I want a chance to tell you how much my Aunt Jane meant to our family… because she meant a lot. And most importantly, I want a chance to ask for your prayers for my cousins and the rest of my family who is left wondering, why?!
My aunt was such a hard worker and a giver. She worked two jobs and did everything in her power to support her kids. She was the light of the room, as most of the sisters are (there are four of them), always smiling and cracking jokes.
She was an encourager… She frequently sent me text messages or Facebook comments to tell me how proud she was of me, Jeff and the boys. That was just who she was.
One of our last text conversations was about her wanting to get a Happy Mommy Box for my cousin Brandon’s fiance. She thought it was something that she would love as a new mom. She said, “I know Beth will love it so much! And you girls are amazing!” Quoting her straight from my phone… A prime example of her heart – always thinking of others and encouraging at the same time!
As I was writing this, I just remembered that when we were together in August she showed me this video on her phone of Rylan, my cousin Brianna’s daughter. I just came across the same video she posted on Facebook and I smiled because it was evident that she was so proud of her kids and she loved to brag on her grandbabies!
On September 10, 2015, my aunt was murdered by my uncle who then turned the gun on himself.
A day I will never forget.
I was sitting in my home office working on a blog post and my phone rang at 4:19 pm.
I answered the phone and on the other end it was my dad. I could tell from the second I answered the phone something was wrong.
All he said was, “Mandy, something terrible has happened.”
I couldn’t help but immediately think that there was an accident or that something happened to my mom. I could immediately hear the cries of my mom in the background so I wasn’t sure what was going on. My mind then raced to… Maybe something happened to my grandma.
My dad calmly uttered the words, “He shot her.”
I don’t know why he didn’t say who “he” or “her” was, but ironically he didn’t have to. I knew.
“He shot Aunt Janie???”
My immediate response, “I KNEW HE WAS GOING TO DO THAT!” as I dropped to my knees in complete numbness.
I don’t share that with you because I want you to think that he had a history of hurting her or anyone in the family. He did not.
I share that with you because we had just been to Galesburg (where all of my family lives, including my aunt – my mom’s younger sister) to visit and I had this bad feeling about his mental state when we were there. I didn’t see him or talk to him, but we did spend time with my aunts and cousins and, call it a hunch, but I didn’t feel good about the situation.
They were going through a divorce, which was set to be final the Monday after he shot her, and he had been showing signs of mental illness.
But never in our wildest dreams did we ever think this would happen.
When we drove home that weekend I said out loud to my husband in the car, “He’s going to kill her.”
I said it, but I don’t think I actually meant it. I never imagined he would do it.
You never think someone is going to actually hurt someone they love, even if it is a thought you’ve had about them.
You never think it can happen to your own family.
I wish that I had voiced my concern to her. I wish I would have told her my hunch. I wish I would have encouraged her to be more careful.
I know it wouldn’t have mattered, but I still feel guilt.
I won’t get into the details of that awful day and what transpired, but I want you to know… it wasn’t some huge blow up fight. It wasn’t something she saw coming.
I feel like so many people who are in this kind of situation, don’t see it coming.
They trust the person.
But that day… he snapped.
Mental illness is not something to take lightly and clearly, he was struggling.
On that Thursday afternoon, he was not the man she knew. He was not the man my cousins knew as their father. He was not Jeff Phillips, the uncle that I once knew.
I don’t think we will ever understand why he did it or what he was going through and that’s hard to swallow because it’s human nature to want answers.
We want to know why he did it? Why God allowed this to happen to my aunt? Why my cousins who are 17, 20 and 25 now have to go on without BOTH of their parents? Why their children will have to grow up without grandparents?
Grieving is something that we all do differently.
I have lost loved ones in the past, and it’s been hard. Losing someone to murder is something that I can not even explain and I can not imagine the emotions my cousins are feeling and the long road they will endure ahead.
I find myself recreating scenarios in my head of that fatal day.
What did she say to him? Did she plead with him for her life? Was she scared? Did she try to leave or did she never have the chance? I envision him holding the gun to her chest. I can hear her voice. I can see her face.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. She never made it out of the driveway that day. But my heart searches for answers even though I know we will truly never know.
The only hope I can cling to is Jesus. I know He feels the same pain we feel about losing her. I know He understands. He offers comfort.
I haven’t forgiven my uncle yet… For now it’s too soon. I am not ready, but I know that it is something I will eventually choose to do.
Not for him, but for me.
He took something away from us that day we will never get back and I am angry that my entire family is grieving and trying to figure out how to pick up and move on without her. I am angry that he didn’t get more help when he contemplated suicide over the last several months. I am angry that the help he did seek wasn’t enough. I am angry that my cousins are left to figure life out without the support of the two most important people in their life… their mother and father.
I am angry, yet at the same time, my heart has hope.
I am thankful that we have a close-knit family and we all are coming together during such a terrible time. I am thankful that I got to spend time with my Aunt Jane a few weeks ago when we were in town visiting. I am thankful that my mom and my other two aunts are rock solid mentors for all of us when it comes to dealing with such a huge loss.
I watched these three women stand strong, united as sisters, and greet every single person who came to say goodbye to my aunt.
I watched them support my cousins, hold hands with my grandparents, put their arms around strangers… I watched them tell amazing stories about how much she was loved and listen to stories about all the lives she touched… I watched them walk up to people in despair and offer a shoulder to cry on and a tissue to wipe away the tears… I watched them dance and sing to my aunt’s favorite songs as we said our last goodbyes…
Most of all I watched the strength they portrayed throughout this entire tragedy and I felt thankful that, even during this awful tragedy, they are choosing to see the good things in life.
I am so proud of my cousins… The strength they have shown over the last few weeks has been nothing short of amazing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been rough for them, but they are leaning on family and friends and coping the best they can. If you have offered up prayers for them or my family, please know that it is appreciated.
My main concern right now is for them. I want them to feel supported and loved. I want to pick up where my aunt left off and help them continue on.
This is truly something they never asked for. They don’t deserve to have to go through life without parents. They have been left with a lot on their plate, including the burden of having to pay for 2 funerals.
They loved both of their parents very much, regardless of what their dad did on that day and they truly need all of the support they can get.
So many of you have asked me, “What can I do?”
My only answer, “Pray.”
So, will you do me a favor? Will you be in prayer for my cousins, my mom, her sisters, my grandparents and our entire family?
Specifically for my cousins: Ask God to bring peace to their hearts… Comfort them when they need it most… Place role models in their life that will help lead them down the right road… Restore their faith in marriages and relationships… Offer His strength in times of darkness.
Specifically for my family: Pray we are eventually able forgive my uncle so we can be at peace… That we will no longer harbor negative thoughts and energy, but focus on the good memories… Clear our minds of any negative feelings that are taking up space, space that we could be using for good… Remind us that choosing to forgive someone does not condone what they did, it means we choose to free ourselves from the hold their actions have on us.
Lord, nothing seems to help the pain we feel. Our hearts are crushed and our spirits mourn. All we know is that Your grace is sufficient. Moment by moment, we choose to lean on You because we know You will never abandon us. We pour our grief to You and praise You even in the storm. When we are at our weakest Your strength is strongest. We thank You for eternal life and for the hope we have knowing we will walk together again someday.
Romans 12:17-21 – Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Thank you for all of your support and prayers for my family. For those of you who have sent cards, flowers, called or reached out to my mom or my cousins to offer your condolences… thank you.
I know that the one thing my cousins and mom will need most over the next several months is continued support. So please don’t stop praying. Please don’t stop encouraging. Your actions make a difference in others lives because they have already made a difference in ours. Thank you.
I want to leave you with one final quote, taken straight from my aunt’s Facebook page…
This is the way my aunt lived her life and I know she would want us all to continue living our lives with bright smiles.
Losing someone you love in such a sudden way causes you to look backward, but it also forces you to look forward, to reflect on the present and the future. It causes you to take note of the way you live your life and nurture the relationships you have with those who are still with you.
Let this be a reminder for us all… to not just simply live, but truly be alive.