My Aunt Joyce was a beautiful woman in every way. She had an eye for fashion and even worked for a time as a model, but she was so much more than her physical beauty. She was an empathetic and loving mother to her two sons. She couldn’t wait to have grandkids and, when she did, she loved them with her whole heart. She was an animal lover and always had a dog. She loved to travel and wanted to see the world. Simply put, Aunt Joyce loved life and lived it to the fullest.
Aunt Joyce was such a support to me and was always my number one cheerleader. Whenever I would doubt myself or drag my feet, she would always ask, “What’s holding you back?”
I was with Aunt Joyce at her home on the night she decided to end her life. She suffered from the painful condition fibromyalgia and it was bothering her so much that night I thought about taking her to the emergency room. She assured me that she was okay and told me to leave. But, something was off — so much so that I waited until she was in bed and had finished her cigarette before leaving. I told her I would be back in the morning so we could talk more about whatever was troubling her.
As I drove home, I felt a sense of regret that I had not held her hands and prayed with her before I left. I prayed the entire drive home.
The next morning, my mom told me she had been trying to call Aunt Joyce but she wasn’t answering her phone. My cousin Jason, Aunt Joyce’s son, and I decided we should go check on her. When we opened the door, it was eerily quiet. Aunt Joyce normally slept with the television on, but we heard nothing. When Jason entered her room, he immediately screamed, “Mama!” A chill ran down my spine – it was a sound like I had never heard before. Aunt Joyce was lying there, lifeless, with a gunshot wound to her head.
I just stood there in complete shock while Jason screamed and beat on the bed in despair. No matter how hard I try, I will never be able to get that image of her out of my head. It was horrific beyond imagination.
I tried to calm Jason down, but he was too far gone. I knew I needed to call someone but my body didn’t know what to do. I grabbed the phone and called 911, but the words weren’t coming out of my mouth. I was quite literally speechless.
I went back into Aunt Joyce’s room and looked at her again because I just couldn’t believe it was real. I started jumping up and down and repeating, “Why? Why? Why?” and even ended up fracturing my toe. I was so mad at myself for not staying with her that night. Why didn’t I stay?
Looking back now, Aunt Joyce had been leaving signs that she was planning to end her life. She was telling everyone how much she loved them. She was making peace with those she had differences with. This is when we should have intervened but, like most people today, we were so busy being busy. We weren’t paying attention to the signals Aunt Joyce was sending us.
When a person asks for help or shows signs of needing help, you should stop what you are doing immediately and pay attention to them — really listen to them. It’s also vitally important to know if your loved ones own guns, where they keep them and to make sure they are locked and unloaded.
Shortly after Aunt Joyce died, I joined the Everytown Survivor Network. Being a part of this network of gun violence survivors has really helped me begin to heal. Now, I see gun violence and the impact it has on people’s lives from so many different perspectives. I take what I’ve learned from other survivors and from my own experiences with gun violence and publicly advocate for sensible solutions to this devastating crisis.
No one should ever have to go through what we’ve gone through. I will continue to be a voice for my Aunt Joyce and for all those whose lives have been taken by gun violence. It’s not too soon to talk about solutions, it’s too late.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline ‘1-800-273-TALK (8255)’ for free and confidential emotional support from a local crisis center, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
This piece is by Rhonda Gallman, a Tennessee member of the Everytown Survivor Network and Survivor Network Fellow. If you have been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected]