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Remembering lives lost to violence and suicide

Grief in losing a loved one whether through violence, suicide or natural causes is a process that everyone at some point in their life will experience. The absence of having your loved one gone from your life, gone from family gatherings or birthday celebrations always tugs at your heart. There is no time limit on grief, but expressing your feelings and remembering those who have passed helps to ease the pain.

The Latino Advocacy Taskforce (LAT) held their seventh annual memorial service, “A Day of Remembrance” at Mattie Rhodes Art Center in Kansas City, Missouri last weekend. This year, families who have lost their children through violence stood with families who have lost family members to suicide and prayed together for each person.

Lupe Rennau, member of LAT, welcomed families as they gathered inside the Mattie Rhodes Art Center, to remember their deceased family members.

She lost her son, John Valdivia to violence in 2010 on Valentine’s Day. His case is still unsolved but she wanted people to understand that it is important to keep the case out there in the community. Each year since his death, she has held a Valentine’s Day dance as a fundraiser to raise money for the TIPS Hotline (816) 474-8477.

“Don’t let your cases die, keep it going and out in the public so people won’t forget. I know it is hard and I know it is hard to go through this every year because you go back to that day and remember what happened. I suggest if you need to get counseling, do so, because it is so hard to move on. Talk with a friend, a relative or a counselor and we have counselors at Mattie Rhodes that can help you. Seek help for yourself, it is very important,” she said.

Irene Garcia, mother of Paul Richard Garcia who passed away, attended the Day of Remembrance event for the first time.

“He was my baby boy ... it hurts,” she cried, “because we don’t know what really happened. It could have been a murder or suicide. We are unclear what happened. The last time I saw him he was walking down the steps of my home,” said Garcia.

A parent’s worst nightmare is what John Garcia, Jr. told the crowd happened to him on August 8, 2010.

“I got the call in the middle of the night … my son was standing outside with his friends, laughing and telling jokes, as he always did when he was murdered. The person who murdered my son was caught and sentenced, but we all got a life sentence and we have to deal with it until our last day,” said Garcia.

Joe Arce, co-founder of LAT, spoke before the group gathered at Mattie Rhodes Art Center.

“The purpose of us coming together is to bring unity and hopefully a better understanding what we go through individually in dealing with a lost of a loved one that is unexpected. We are never prepared to lose a loved one,” he said.

His grand-nephew was killed in Kansas City, Kansas due to a drive-by shooting. When he got that call about his nephew’s murder he couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

After seeing what his niece Josie Garcia went through after losing her son to violence—the barriers by law enforcement—the fact that she couldn’t see her son’s body for five days—trying to get answers to her many questions of what happened, why did it happen—lead Arce to decide to form a group that would help to guide families through the system so they could work with law enforcement and receive help in burying their loved ones and have counseling available when they were ready.

When he spoke with John Fierro, President/CEO of the Mattie Rhodes Center, they discussed the fact that the Latino community didn’t have an organization to turn to for help during their time of grief.

“In talking with John, I said we have to do something, we have to create a program, where we can come together and understand what we are going through. Talking to one another is like therapy it helps the soul. Today during our day of remembrance we are honoring those who choose a different route to enter the gates of heaven. We are talking about suicide. Over the years, we as a Latino community have kept this quiet. We understand your pain … we don’t understand your pain 100 percent, but we don’t want you to be suffering in silence,” said Arce.

As a member of LAT, the Mattie Rhodes Center offers counseling for individuals and families.

“The Taskforce represents a voice for combating violent crime in Kansas City Latino community by heightening awareness of the tragedies taking place in our neighborhoods, encouraging people to share information with the authorities and bridging the language barrier. Our community has been silent far too long when it comes to people being killed in senseless acts of violence and suicide. We at Mattie Rhodes Center are here to help our community by providing counseling services to those in need,” said Fierro.

Teresa Molina is a Clinical Supervisor at Mattie Rhodes and she touched on the difficult subject of losing a loved one to suicide during the event.
“It is important to understand the person who makes the choice to attempt and complete suicide, they don’t have any idea on what they are leaving behind. They wouldn’t ever do that to the people they love if they knew the legacy of suicide. The theme of the day of remembrance is sharing the burden, sharing the pain of your loss makes a difference. Whether you do that with a friend, a community member, a support group or a professional counselor, sharing that burden and getting support makes all the difference,” she said.

LAT members encouraged individuals and families to seek counseling when they are ready and they wanted them to know they are not alone. There are people in the organization and the community that would listen to them as they go through the grieving process.

“You never get over the lost of someone you love but you can move on with help,” said Molina.

Westside Apostolic Church Pastor Valentine Estrada grew up on the Westside and stood among the families suffering the lost of their children and gave them comfort in prayers and in relating his own story of losing his son to violence.

Five years ago on Mother’s Day, his son was murdered in Dallas, Texas in a drive-by shooting.

“I too know what it is like to get that telephone call. Sometimes when you begin to find out the facts of the actual event, the information on how it went down, the facts of how they died and the circumstances … sometimes that can hurt more than the actual phone call,” said Pastor Estrada.

Remembering families touched by suicide, John Garcia (not related to Garcia Jr.) spoke out about his brother Paul who had a drug problem and eventually completed suicide.

He had to deal with the ‘what if’s’ after his brother’s death and it took him a long time to come to peace with what happened in 1992.

“I knew he had a problem and I was going to help him but I didn’t know how bad it was. I thought if I had listened to him more, if I had gotten him help sooner, the first few days after his death were terrible. I went to talk to our priest but he was gone, so I spoke with one of the nuns at the parish. She answered some of my questions for me and when I left I felt better. We (family members) went to therapy and it was unbelievable what happened in those meetings. It saved me,” said Garcia.

Arce said that reaching out to a family within the first 24 to 48 hours after a loved one’s life is taken is a difficult situation for everyone involved but they want the family to know they are not alone.

“It is during this trying time that the family needs support the most. They need to know they are not alone and that our community will advocate for them and keep the memory of their loved one alive,” he said.

For more information contact Latino Advocacy Taskforce members Lupe Rennau (816) 210-3231 or Josie Garcia (913) 244-6910.