Editor’s Note: Jenna Lynne passed away September 23, 2014 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She left behind three sons, her father, and two sisters. Her partner is behind bars for her murder and has yet to face trial. In this heartfelt letter, Tessa McLean, Ojibwe, speaks to her cousin directly and to the thousands of indigenous women who have died as a result of domestic violence. McLean also speaks to the families who have been affected by this epidemic.
Forgive me for saying this too late, but I love you.
When I heard you had been put on life support, my whole world turned upside down, literally. I felt my whole being burst into tears, sadness, and rage. I cried. I kicked. I punched. And I screamed.
My mind raced and filled with so many thoughts: “What to do? How do I get to you? How soon can I pack my bags and be at your side? How can I ever look at him again? How do I not strangle him once I see him again?” I also told myself, “Pray. Pray. Pray. Pray for the best.” You see, I was told he beat you so badly machines had to keep you alive. That wasn’t love; it was violence. Domestic violence.
I left home as soon as I could. School, work, deadlines… I dropped them; all that mattered was getting home to you. I caught a few flights from Denver and drove a few hours to make it home to catch you. But en route, I got the message – you left us.
I knew that things weren’t looking good the last day. I kept hearing the message, “pulling the plug” over and over. I tried to catch you so that I could at least tell you in person how much I loved you. I didn’t make it on time, so here it is—
I love how when I switched schools and kids picked on me, I could count on you to protect me. I love how you were never too busy for the times I came home. I love how much you laughed when I gave your son a onesie that said, “Got doodoosh” (an Ojibwe funny). I love how much you took good care of our grandparents. I love how even now your Facebook page is still up and your profile is the silhouette of a Native woman with no image saying, “My Profile just disappeared in solidarity with all indigenous women missing, murdered, and denied.” But most of all I love how much you loved your boys. I mean this with my whole heart; you left behind a legacy of love in them.
This love letter comes a little too late and I suppose it’s because we never expect to lose a loved one this way. No one predicts their family being murdered. Then, it happened. We scramble, we lose ourselves, and then hopefully we try to figure it out. We have faith in “Giga waabaamin minawaa” because we don’t have goodbyes.
But for once I could have used a “goodbye.” Cousin, losing you so violently took me to the darkest depths I have ever known where I hit the bottom of everything, pain, sorrow, sadness, anger. It was here I realized if I don’t pull out now and start looking forward, I may lose myself and if I do, how can I be a voice for you?
Grief takes time; we all have our own pace of healing, but I decided it is time to dig myself out and start looking for some light. I want to be strong again; fierce again. I want to be that cousin you believed in. I want to fight battles against the epidemic of missing and murdered women, this burden we’ve been facing for hundreds of years. I’m not all the way there yet; I haven’t found all my strength, but I’m trying.
When it still seems too much to bear, I cry; in fact, I’m not afraid to say, but I cry almost every day. It just means I still miss you.
I have been seeking out answers each day — how do we end violence against women? How do we bring our sisters, mothers, daughters, cousins, aunties back home? Why doesn’t Canada care? Why doesn’t the U.S. care? Why is colonial violence still going strong? I have ideas, but nothing concrete yet. When all hope seems lost, I pray. I pray for answers, I pray for strength, I pray for your boys, your family, our granny, our aunties. Prayer. That’s the answer.
Imagine, cousin, if everyone who reads this says a prayer to end violence against First Nations/American Indian women, we could have the power to end this now. No one else would have to suffer, feel the pain and grief of losing a loved one. Wouldn’t that be beautiful?
This may be a love letter to Jenna, but I hope it can be a love letter to all the missing and murdered women, and to all the families affected. My hope is that all of us can honor, respect, love and protect our women before it’s too late. We can honor those we’ve lost by saying we will not lose another to any kind of violence.
Be strong. Have faith. Take courage. Love is the movement.
If you’d like to write a love letter to your relative, Sing Our Rivers Red created a space especially for this online.