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A Lesson Learned From Family Tragedy

September 18, 1988|SHERRY BARBER | Barber is a Southern California writer. and

"There's nothing you could have done," the voice repeated. Perhaps not. The only person who could have helped Maria was Maria herself. She alone knew her situation and how to alter it. "Not all abusive men kill," the volunteer said.

On Aug. 9, Andrea and I stood amid a small group of mourners on a hillside in Hollywood. Six uniformed pall bearers from Forest Lawn carried the caskets, first a large white one then a small white one, to the grave site.

After the funeral I learned that Maria had sought help from various agencies, but it was unclear whether she, or they, failed to pursue the matter.

The tragedy opened me to a new awareness, and that led to a quest for answers. After talking with both local and national helplines, I feel more confident about recognizing distress signals and interpreting the vocabulary of a woman in trouble. She needs to know the problem is not "her fault." I'll assure her that she knows her situation better than anyone else, and that I trust her decisions. I'll offer my support in helping her act on those decisions.

Though it would be arrogant to think I might have saved someone's life, it's not arrogant to plan for the future. Thanks to the helplines, I now have something specific to say and something specific to offer. Instead of tormenting myself with what I didn't do, I concentrate on what I can do.

If there is a next time, I might make a difference.

Meanwhile, I hold thoughts of Maria and Judith in my heart and console myself with the memory of a lighthearted afternoon when we all behaved like untroubled children and, despite the wall, found a way to slip our messages through.

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