Today, January 12th is a sad somber day. This day will forever remind me of all that was lost and that will never be. January 12th, 2011 was the day my brother lost his life to violence. Today is the anniversary of his death, were the life of Jason Peagram, age 22 was taken from us. On this day, I want to share his story and how I got through the loss.
Two years ago, I was woken up by a phone call at roughly 5 in the morning. Confused I answered. "Hello?!?" My older brother replied, "Kortney, it's me." I clearly could hear my brother crying. "Hey, what is going on? Are you ok? Is mom ok?" I started to panic thinking that something had happen to our mother. I tried to remain calm, as I listen to my brother talk. His voice was shaking, he clearly was upset. He continued, " No, something happen last night, I am headed back home...". He paused and took a deep breath before saying, "Jason was shot...Our brother was shot...it's bad...it's really bad..." I gasped, I stood right up and I started to ask a million questions at once. " Well where is he? What is going on? How did this happen? What hospital is he at? How is he doing? When can we see him?" I did not expect the following words to come out of my brother's mouth, " Kortney, Jason died...he is dead...he was shot and he died..." I had never heard my brother so upset, I had also never heard myself scream in disbelief- it is this indescribable screech that came out of my mouth. The sound of pain, loss, and disbelief. As I fell to my knees in tears, weeping I realized that January 12 is the day that everything changed and nothing would ever be the same.
As I might have mentioned in previous blogs, I am from a Canada. I grew up in a small town outside the city of Montreal. My mother and Jason lived a few blocks away from each other in the city. Canada is known for being safe. In 2011, there were 35 homicides in Montreal (Metro, Canada). My brother was one of those 35 people. To this day we still have no answers. It is an open murder investigation that sadly might never be closed. The report indicated that Jason got into an altercation outside his apartment with a few people. Witnesses heard fighting and yelling. The next thing they heard were gun shots and the perpetrators fled the scene, leaving my brother to die. Sadly, my family and I will spend the rest of our days wondering what happened that night. How could someone take his life? Who would have done that? Why hurt such amazing young man? Why did they target him? What could he have done? Was this planned or an accident? Why were they fighting? So many questions that remain unanswered and things we might never know. It is often hard to sit with the unknown and to not have closure over his death.
After a few years of living through this tragedy, I am opening up about the facts of his tragic death. Last year, I wrote a blog on how to dedicate my work, life, and upcoming year to my brother. This year I am a little stronger. I want to share how I got through losing a sibling to violence and how I dedicate my work to my brother.
As many of you know, I run anti-bullying/ anti-violence programs across Illinois. Bulldog Solution has been in business for over 3 years. Only a year after I started up this business, I lost my brother. It was hard for me to not blame myself. I didn't know why he had not come to me if he needed help. I was his big sister, I ran these programs to help youth. I knew in my heart, I could have helped him. But he never reached out for help. He didn't open up to any of us about what was really going on. We knew he had been stressed for a few weeks, but aren't we all stressed out? Do we ever take the time to really listen to each other and find out why our loved ones are stressed? No, often we get caught up in our own stories and overlook other peoples problems. I would say, I overlooked my brothers problems and brushed them off as daily stress.
As the first year passed and I continued to grow Bulldog, I started to make connections. My brother indirectly gave me answers to some of the harder questions around bullying, aggression, and violence. I needed to teach the youth about how bullying leads to violent acts, how anger over time leads to aggression, how people progress into acting out on their anger, how fighting back when you are being attacked might not be the answer, and how it's ok to ask for help. These topics above are the key to helping teens. They need to know how to cope, make the right choice, and communicate.
As I grieved his death, I threw myself more and more into my work to find peace and help others struggling with bullying and violence. I decided to start dedicating my work to my brother, Jason. The last few years, I worked in high risk schools and pushed my arguments to teach students not only about bullying but also about violence.
Bullying, aggression, and violence are all correlated and intertwined. One typically follows the other. Jason's story inspired me to work on tackling these topics with youth, so we can come to some solutions versus turning on each other. My goal is to help them find alternative solutions, so they don't live to loose someone they love to violence. My goal is to give them a chance at something better, a choice to do what is right, an opportunity to make a difference, and maybe in that process I might save a life.
My goal is to also teach parents about how bullying is beyond the playground. Today, kids carry knives, guns, and weapons. I want to teach parents that fighting back is not an option. I often wonder what would have happened if my brother would have walked away. Walked into his apartment or ran for help. What if he did not fight back? Would he still be alive? I believe that Jason would have had a fighting chance. But sadly, he was raised to fight back and to protect his honor. My dad was old school he often said "If someone hits you, you put them in their place." My dad also grew up in a time where you fought with fists and not with guns. We no longer live in that world.
So here is my recommendation to parents. Get over your old school mentality. Fighting back can lead to retaliation, violence, and death. We are no longer fighting fair but we are fighting to win. Youths don't quite get the consequences of violence and by letting your kid fight back you are opening the door of unknown. Teach them to protect themselves, and walk away from bad situations. You never know what the perpetrator has in his/her back pocket. We need to start thinking about a new normal and teach our kids how to be safe and protect themselves. I can't change my brother's fate but I hope this story will open your eyes to the reality that we face in our society.
So today, I write to you from my heart not my expertise. I am a victim of violence. I am a survivor of tragedy. It took me two years to really grieve and be able to openly write about Jason's death. I am doing so in the hope that you gain some new perspective. I did not do this journey all alone. I had a lot of support and love. Here are some of my things I did to cope with the grief and pain of loosing a love one.
- Let yourself cry. It will happen when you least expect it. It is painful and often people around you don't understand but I do. It hurts and it's unfair so don't hold it in.
- Somedays will be worst than other and that is ok. Let yourself process the pain and be kind to yourself.
- Sleep often let your body and mind rest. Sleeping helps heal you.
- Journal or write. Get it out on paper. It sounds silly but this is the best therapy. Write a few sentences or pages a day. Just let it all out on paper.
- The first year is the hardest. After a few months, people around you might be over the loss but you will carry it a lot longer. Don't feel bad. The only thing that will heal you is time. Time will mend some of the pain, you will never forget but eventually you will learn to live with it.
- Find an outlet to get your emotions out. Yoga, exercise, shopping, friends, TV. Anything that can help. I did Yoga and lots of TV. I use to watch reruns of Grey's Anatomy. I thought Christina Yang and I had a connection. I lost myself in an imaginary world where I didn't feel alone. It helped me over the initial hump.
- Use your family as a crutch. I really regret not doing that more. I think we all feared showing our pain that we missed out on supporting each other
- Therapy. Honestly, it works. It really helped me process the stages of grief and have a sounding board. You will go through some crazy phases and you need to talk to someone that can help. You don't want to take out your pain on your loved ones or children.
- Try not to turn to alcohol. I know it is hard but it prolongs the pain and depression. You can't mask what is happening because it will impact you in the long run and might do more damage then good.
- Talk to your family and friends. Don't shut people out. We are all connected and need each other. Love is a powerful thing and it helps sooth an aching heart.
- Find what works for you. We are all different and process tragedy in different ways. There is no right or wrong way to process death it's more about learning to cope and survive.
In conclusion, my brother was amazing. He was hilarious, kind, compassionate, and smart. He was loved by so many. This day is about remembering how many lives he touched and how we live to honor him. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him, I miss Jason and still grieve for him. I can't change the past or place blame, all I can do is move forward using his words, his love, and his spirit. He gave us a great life lesson and his legacy lives within me and anyone that met him. He gave me hope when all was lost and he truly believed in me. For a young man, he was wiser and more mature than most. He had a heart filled with love and kindness. He connected with people and could make anyone feel special and loved. He was that ray of sunshine that peaks through the clouds after the storm. Forever loved and never forgotten.
Jason from heaven up above, I hope you look down on us and see that you are missed and loved. This world will never be the same without you. Until we meet again....