Survived the fallout of her son’s mass murders at École Polytechnique in 1989 and his subsequent suicide. A retired nurse, she wrote about her experience in Aftermath. Now 64, she lives outside Montreal.
It took me 17 years before I could face the public, before I could understand what happened, before I was delivered of my guilt and shame.
I was an ambitious person, and I was not Christian-minded then. That came after, after the suffering – I realized how selfish I was. I couldn’t see my son’s suffering. When I divorced my husband he never payed his alimony, he never saw his children. Just now I understand all the rejection, the abandonment that my kids felt.
But my son was an introvert. His pain was inside. I didn’t know he had a gun. I never had a gun in the house.
This is the problem. When I speak with young people who are in prison, I tell them, “You have to speak up if you have problems inside. Just find someone who can help you.” But they don’t trust people, because so often they have been rejected.
And they’re in their own minds. When you are doing such a thing it’s because you don’t think about others, you’re sick, sick in spirit. The cause of this we don’t know. Maybe we will learn something with this Mr. Holmes, because he’s still alive – it’s very rare that he’s still alive after these murders.
Everyone will criticize and blame the parents. People think it cannot happen to them. I’m sorry, but you never know... The heart of man is not good in itself. The Bible tells us that we are very selfish. We’re all capable, if we keep bitterness, all this hate, in ourselves, can bring you to do bad things like that.
We need compassion. That’s what I’ve learned through my process.
To Mr. Holmes’s mother I say be courageous. I think God changes the heart, not us. But our part is to love people. I live to help others that are suffering.
Survived abduction in Argentina following a military coup. The political activist, now 57, is a teacher in Los Angeles.
There had been a military coup in March, 1976. It was a climate of terror and uncertainty. And 30,000 of us, including children, were kidnapped, taken to a secret detention camp, tortured and eventually disappeared.
I was at home with my kid, she was one year and a half. They knocked at the door. I asked who was there, and they said, “The army.” So I turned to run. My daughter followed me – I didn’t know whether to take her with me. I just kissed her goodbye. I left her.
I was hit and beaten up and sexually molested. I was not tortured with electricity. It was a very strange thing that they didn’t do that. But for me, the worst torture was not knowing what they had done to my daughter.
This whole thing, “Anybody can become a torturer, anyone can become a criminal” – I don’t think it’s exactly like that. I don’t think we all can be the torturer. I don’t think I’m special, but I had other types of convictions and beliefs. I didn’t believe in taking power by force and I didn’t believe in torture, ever.
And I don’t want to get into the minds of the evil people, because they destroy my own. In Colorado, relatives are saying “Let’s name the victims and not the perpetrator.” I understand that.
And this whole thing about forgiveness. Some people get relief, they forgive to get better. But torture is different. I mean, I can forgive my friend who forgets my birthday, but justice is what we need.
People also talk about survivor’s guilt. But for me, it’s not guilt. I know who the guilty ones were. It’s a sorrow that cannot be explained. It’s a loneliness. People are curious, but I don’t think there is a recipe for survival.
Survived imprisonment and torture during the Iranian Revolution. The 47-year-old now lives in Aurora, Ont.
I was just your average teenager who loved having a good time and going to school. But with the revolution our personal liberties were being taken away. I protested when my calculus teacher taught propaganda. She said, “You don’t like what I teach, leave.” So I collected my books and walked out, and most of my classmates followed.
We were tagged as anti-revolutionaries and were arrested. I got the death sentence. But one of my my interrogators believed I was telling the truth, that I didn’t know anything. He reduced my sentence to life in prison. And six months later, he offered me a deal: Marry him – and, although I had to stay in prison, he’d protect my family. I agreed.
Not long afterwards, he was assassinated by a rival faction of the government. The prosecutor of Tehran wanted to marry me off to another guard. But my husband’s family intervened, and I was eventually released.
The man that I was forced to marry was a torturer. But I found out later that he had also been a political prisoner during the time of the Shah. He too had been tortured severely. When the revolution happened, it was an opportunity to seek what he called justice.
When you say a torturer you think these people are incapable of carrying a conversation, or that these people are entirely evil every minute of their lives. That is not true. That would make it very convenient. It’s not like that. My husband was an intelligent man, very well-read. He had bursts of being very nice to me even if I was still his captive.
What I learned through all of this – you can’t always tell who’s good and who’s evil. In prison you’d see prisoners who were terribly mean to each other for no good reason. We talk about evil, but how do you know evil? How do you really recognize it? Because in a lot of cases, torturing, hurting people, executing people, is considered an act of justice.
Survived the World Trade attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A senior vice-president for an insurance company, he is now retired in British Columbia.
When I went to work, I’d get on a little bus in Scarsdale. A young man around the corner from me would get on at the third or fourth stop. He’d wait at his front door with his kids and give his wife a kiss before running across the road to jump on board.
People would mumble about how the bus was waiting for him to give his wife a kiss. And it was exactly that same way on September 11. I saw him get on the bus, saw him sit down, and off we went.
Later, I’m attending a meeting on the 103rd floor of one of the Twin Towers. As I’m giving a short talk, I see the plane coming in and hitting building number one. Fire leaps out. I go back to my office. Security was telling us: stay at your desk, we’re a safe building. Well, I had the benefit of seeing the plane and it was huge. I started walking down the stairs.
When I got home I found that the young man from the bus had died. The saddest thing was a week or two later: I was getting on that same bus, and the driver took a different route. He said, “I promised the wife, because her three children are running across the road every day to meet the bus, thinking their dad is still going to come home.”
Nobody thinks about all the lives that will be affected. People who died in the theatre in Colorado will impact another several hundred people. All of them will feel unbelievable grief.
And those people who went to Batman with happy thoughts – it’s difficult for somebody normal to think how anyone gets to that point that he just goes out and shoots people. The only common purpose that I see between Mr. Bin Laden and Mr. Holmes man is that they’re both looking to be recognized in history.
In my business life, I struggled to get ahead, I worried all the time. But now I realize you living has to be the ultimate goal.
Survived the Mumbai terrorist attacks of 2008. The 53-year-old yoga amd meditation teacher lives in Markham, Ont.
I was in India on a meditation retreat. Normally I went to my room after meditating. But my group decided we’d go to the hotel restaurant. When the shooting started, my friend Alan shouted at us to get under the table. Some ended up beside the table rather than under it, and they were all shot. They were all injured. I was grazed in the thigh by a bullet.
I kept chanting a powerful mantra of peace: Om shanti. It means “God’s peace” or “universal peace.” I had been taught that it created a subtle shield around you that protected you from negative energy. Afterward, when there was a ceasefire and one of the hotel staff called quietly for anybody who was alive and could move to come his way. I had to crawl over Alan, who was shot in the head.
People generally come from their stories, about what they think life is and how it should be. I was coming from my story, which is that of a yoga and meditation teacher with an awareness of universal consciousness. The shooter was coming from a very different story, about great suffering and deprivation. From what little I know about it, he had been raised without most of the basics of living.
Everyone has their own role to play. The role the shooter played helped me evolve. It helped put me in a place where I experienced the possibility of death and I also experienced a higher consciousness. I feel a lot more whole, a lot more integrated. I experience a lot less fear. I think when you face your worst possible fear and you realize there’s really nothing to fear except the fear itself, that’s liberating. Do I need to fear death anymore? I don’t think so.