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Not just another vigil

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Last night, I went to a vigil for the Sisters in Spirit organized by the Mothers of Red Nations.

The weather was very cold, but this year the ceremony was particularly poignant for a lot of people present due to the increased attention the deaths of murdered and missing Aboriginal women has garnered.

It was also beautiful to me because it reaffirmed some things I’ve been thinking of lately: the best we can give of ourselves to those in need, the best we can expect of those we love, and the best we can expect from officers we trust in our community. I saw elements of all three last night.

A lot of the people I come to care about are dead before I ever meet them. I know it’s odd.

I often wonder why an impoverished teenage girl or woman has to die before we are outraged, positively shaken to the core, by these tough, beautiful, often angry little creatures that were sometimes lost long before violence took them away. Last night, I saw women who have told me their stories of trying unsuccessfully to yank their daughters/sisters out of crackhouses, others who couldn’t look me in the eye during hours of interviews because they were so beaten, different women who balance their children and jobs and families with trying to advocate for those who are truly invisible.

(Bernadette Smith, sister of missing Claudette Osborne-Tyo, is a poster girl for true sisterhood.)

I also saw Winnipeg Police Service officers who came and stood by quietly and listened not because they had to, but because they wanted to show their support. Pinned to their blue uniform was the Sisters in Spirit button, and there they were standing near the back of the Oodena Circle at The Forks, quietly listening and soaking in the atmosphere. I was impressed. These were no figureheads.

I once heard the gutsy Vancouver Sun crime reporter Kim Bolan say that sometimes when she talks to young gang-involved men she ends up feeling like their mother. (I’m paraphrasing here)

She said that she tells them that bad things might happen to them if they stay in the gang lifestyle. And in that moment, I felt I knew exactly what she meant.

Here is what I know from covering death: mothers remember.

Sisters remember. Even if they’re mired in their own grief.

They will carry their loved ones through their darkest hours and cherish them long after they’ve disappeared down a path so dark and devastating it’s like a black hole.

They will crack and break in their loss, carry on, and come back again. And on one Sunday night in Winnipeg, they will stand by and tell the world just how much they love those who need it most.

I am grateful for nothing if that.

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