First Parish in Needham Logo

23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

A few years ago, my ex-husband murdered another man.  My son came to my apartment and broke the news.  I felt like I’d been hit by a two-by-four.

I worried for my son’s reaction.  I felt overwhelmed, confused.  But mostly I felt alone.  Living in a “safe” suburb as I do, where murders are a rarity, who could I talk with about this?  I was afraid of being judged as bad for having had this man as my husband.  I contacted Rev. Catie, who sat with me and listened to my story.  She then suggested I call the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute.  The founder of the Institute, Tina Chery, had just visited First Parish in Needham, telling us about the work they do with those whose loved ones have been murdered.  But, importantly, they also support those who have a family member who has murdered.

I made an appointment and drove into Dorchester, into a predominately black part of Boston.  My drive was through unfamiliar streets, and it kept striking me that I needed to drive into a place where murder is so common that an Institute had to be formed to deal with the pain and devastation that this violence brings.  I met with a wonderful counselor, Janice Johnson, who spent the first visit just listening.  On my second visit, Janice set before me a dishpan of sand, then invited me to go into the main room and select from hundreds of little items those that I felt would tell my story in the sand.  After working with my diorama for a while, I was asked if I wanted to talk about what I’d made. We talked for a bit, then I departed, again thinking to myself how sad it is that the place where I had gone for my two sessions in murder grief were in in area that was so commonly stricken by murders and devastation to families that there is a Peace Institute located there to work on these specific issues.

Having multiple ways to grieve is very effective and the Institute’s sand therapy helped me a great deal. More importantly, having someplace to go and people to talk with who understood what I was going through was so validating. They offer a very special service to families dealing with murder. 

At our service this past Sunday I couldn’t help but notice that only our guests were black.  And later in the morning, as I stood in the downstairs hallway waiting for a singing lesson, Francis was cleaning the building.  Francis is black.  We are not an integrated church by any means.  Maybe this is some of the work of our congregation — making it so a black guest isn’t preaching to an audience that contains not one black congregant and joining in the work of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute to help make the city of Boston a safer place, a place that doesn’t need to be ready to counsel those stricken by murder grief.

 Please join others on the annual walk on Mother’s Day or contribute, as I will be doing, to support this sad but necessary work.