By Sister Paris Slapikas, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth
Working with men and women who have experienced intimate partner violence and sexual assault is never easy. Day in and day out our staff is entrusted with the responsibility of being present to people at a time in their lives when they are most vulnerable, emotionally and physically. Our responsibility to build trusting relationships, model love, offer support, share information and resources, explore coping strategies and develop safety plans is a great responsibility and it is indeed a great privilege. But being present to another’s deep suffering comes at a cost. Engaging authentically with each person and their situation and at the same time realizing that the needs of our community far outweigh our capacity is a burden that is deeply felt. Our staff routinely fears for the safety of those we serve and have to cope with the unknown of what happened to the person after completing the call or transitioning out of our emergency shelter. And yet, our staff keep on keeping on because the phones continue to ring and the shelter remains filled to capacity.
On August 4th a woman in our community was killed by her partner and one day later another woman killed her husband in order to survive a violent attack and extensive history of domestic violence. I won’t disclose whether or not these women were served by our agency. Either way, they are ours. Every day we field calls and provide shelter to people just like them; men and women at risk for being killed by their partner, the person who is supposed to love, cherish and care for them.
It is in these times especially that we must recognize seeds of hope even in the midst of extreme suffering and tragedy. Perhaps it is simply acknowledging the courage it takes for a person to call and share their story, in the woman who thanks you for believing them, the one who can acknowledge it isn’t her fault, perhaps it is in the person who says they feel stronger and more confident in their plan or the one who feels safe in shelter.
I believe it is no coincidence that a former client chose this week, in the midst of our grieving for those whose lives are lost to intimate partner violence, to stop in and let us know she is doing well. That she is safe, still working, has an apartment and has regained custody of her children. In spite of the heartache and tears that sometimes accompany this work, it is the seeds of hope and the knowledge and belief that what we do makes a difference in the lives of so many people. This hope is what brings our amazing Advocates back day in and day out.
This week marks the one year anniversary that our dear Sr. Paula and her great friend, Sr. Margaret were killed. Many are devastated and outraged by the atrocity in Charlottesville that cost Heather her life and injured many others. As we go forward wading through the tragedy and heartache that surround us may we be the seeds of hope for others and always be instruments of love and peace.
Story originally published on the Future of Charity Blog. The Future of Charity is a collaborative group that formed to build relationships among the younger, newer members of the Federation congregations (women exploring their call up to 10 years professed as a sister). The group hopes to communicate their love of God and of religious life as well as be a safe place for discerners to freely explore what is stirring in their hearts. Follow the Future of Charity Blog here.