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Shining Light on that “They Lived”

Posted by Geraldine Massey on November 12, 2019

I Lived, We Live: What Did We Miss? was an exhibit about the community of Hazelwood organized by Hazelwood residents and presented last winter here at the JCC’s American Jewish Museum. While the origins of our relationship stem from loss and trauma, our two communities have forged bonds, shared experiences and built meaningful friendships. Center of Life’s Geraldine Massey shares her story about losing her sons and about the surprising ways her life has transformed.

It was approximately 26 years ago when I was devastated with the loss of four major men in my life. I was lost in the pain and despair. My husband of 19 years died from colon cancer, my youngest son Gerald was murdered while sitting on a porch in Hazelwood, on October 3, the same year and 45 days later on November 8 my oldest son Omar was murdered during a home invasion in Hazelwood. I had already moved from Hazelwood, and these tragic events made me vow to never return.  Little did I know that it was the beginning of a journey that would lead me to right back to the neighborhood I loved and hated all at the same time.

It was on February of 2017 that I received two messages from two individuals strongly suggesting that I get involved with a project that was happening in Hazelwood about the lives that were lost in Hazelwood. It was to be an exhibit called “I Lived, We Lived, what did we miss? I had been searching for a way to honor my sons’ lives without shining light on how they died but instead that they “lived.” This exhibit was just what I needed to do this. But wait, it is in Hazelwood! I prayed and asked God to let me know if this is what he would have me do. I went to the meetings and reunited with people that I had often thought about but had not seen since I moved 24 years earlier. It was during these meetings that I made acquaintance with Tim Smith (PT: Pastor Tim) and was immediately impressed with his ability to make things happen and get things accomplished in Hazelwood. I saw in PT the vision and insight of a wise man whose word is his bond. I felt it was a meeting ordained by God.

I left my job at the Center for Victims to be a part of this wonderful exhibit and opportunity to define my sons’ lives as a positive instead of the negative stigma attached due to the cause of their death (homicide). Little did I know that this decision would open new doors and create new relationships.

I began my relationship with the JCC as a result of my involvement in the exhibit and quickly bought into their idea of “neighbors” being a moral concept opposed to a demographic reference. I have made wonderful friends with Melissa, Rabbi Ron Symons and Cathy as well as many others. My new “neighbors” embraced me and my community and made me feel a part of their community. I could not have been prepared for what was to come next.

It was a tragic display of hatred and anti-Semitism. Eleven people lost their lives and many others lost their sense of safety and security when a lone gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue and opened fire on the innocent and unaware worshippers. I am grateful that my new neighbors and I had already fused a bond that had connected as neighbors long before this horrific event happened.

I now walk into the JCC, and I am greeted by familiar faces and I receive hugs and warm wishes from all of my new “neighbors” and friends. I am so grateful to God for this journey and the fruit it has brought forth.

I am also so very thankful to the Center of Life for giving me the opportunity to experience this new and evolving concept of neighbor being defined as a moral concept and not only as a demographic term.

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