By: Claudia Cano
My experience on Saturday, August 3, 2019, changed my life profoundly. At the beginning of the week, I lost my mom to cancer, and by the week’s end, I was a victim of the horrific mass shooting event where 23 people were killed, and 22 more were wounded at the Walmart in El Paso.
As I was preparing to leave the store with my husband and mother-in-law, I stopped to use the restroom. A woman ran into the restroom, screaming, “Hay un señor con una pistola” (There is a man with a gun). Gunfire echoed inside the restroom, a sound that I’ll never forget. I called my husband. He told me to stay in the restroom. He picked up his mother and took her to the back of the store before coming back inside and meeting me in the restroom. He called out my name. I was grateful he was alive. He asked me if I was ready and to cover my eyes and follow him. Exiting the restroom, the smell of gunpowder was heavy; the horrific sight is imprinted in my mind forever. He guided me through the store. Unaware of the shooter’s location, we moved strategically, making our way out of the store.
Once outside safely, we saw a Walmart employee shouting that someone needed help. Instinctually, I ran back inside where only seconds before I was running from danger. I found a woman on the ground, shot several times, and crying out for her husband and children. Her cries still echo in my dreams. I rendered aid and attempted to pick her up but was unable. I stayed with her until help arrived. Soon after, I could hear shouts saying “Clear!” I knew law enforcement was coming and they were clearing aisles as they were getting closer to us. A female police officer helped me put the woman in the shopping cart, and I heard the same question my husband had just asked me minutes ago, “Are you ready?” telling me to run to the front of the store.
We pushed the shopping cart together, running as fast as possible. As we exited, the woman cried, seeing her husband, and called out his name. My husband called out my name, and I was able to answer. I told her that I would go check up on him after leaving her with the EMS team. I ran back towards the front and noticed the woman’s husband was seriously injured, as were those around him. I whispered to him that his wife and kids were okay and that his wife loved him very much. I believe he was able to hear me. The woman’s husband was the last person to pass away months after the event.
Since August 2019, several other acts of violence have occurred. When I heard about the incident in Uvalde, Texas, I asked myself again whether I was ready. Yes, I’m ready, after two years and ten months. My recovery journey has propelled me into my new purpose of healing, hope, and honor.
- Early in the recovery journey, it is important to have someone you trust help you communicate and coordinate on your behalf. Inform your church, work or school of your needs. Ask if your workplace has Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and seek state agencies that can help, such as the Crime Victims Compensation Program State Attorney General of Texas.
- Mental Health: Resist the fear of being looked at as crazy or “está loca” (she is crazy). Entrust yourself to someone who can professionally help you through this trauma. After several unanswered phone calls, I finally found a therapist in my community who gave his time to help.
- Let close family and friends help you. “Déjate querer” (let others take care of you). Allow them to be present and available to cry together. There will be days you will need help with running errands or offering comfort food. For me, it was sopita de arroz, frijoles y una quesadilla (rice, beans, and a quesadilla).
- Community and work/school colleagues: People sent text messages, emails, and mailed cards of encouragement during the first couple of weeks. As I got stronger, I was able to open them up and read them and found so much encouragement.
- Social Media and Media: Be careful in what you share. The media only looks to feed a narrative. Family and friends should remember to respect the person’s journey of grief.
- Faith and Meditation: I found an app called Abide; it was life-changing. I use this app daily. I was able to connect prayer and meditation while learning to breathe consciously. This time with God is a resting place, and I feel his presence where I can center myself, hear his voice, and find peace. “Blessed is the one… who meditates on God’s law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither. Whatever they do prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3).
- Journaling: I started using my journal, drawing, doodling, and making small notes while meditating. It’s a photo album of my thoughts as I look back. It’s a record of my journey of the dark feelings of giving up and bright days where I could finally breathe. I feel proud to look back and see how much I’ve grown.
- My therapist helped me see my experience as something on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being death. My experience was a 9. Since then, I have used the phrase “it’s not a 9” to center myself when my anxiety rises. I know what a nine feels like. Doing this self-talk, “it’s not a 9,” reminds me to breathe and tell myself it will be OK and that I’m safe. I have hope for a new future. It helps put things in perspective.
- Treasure time with loved ones. Tell them how much they mean to you. Live in the moment with joy, without regrets.
- I wish to honor those who lost their lives with my acts of service and by encouraging survivors through their journey of recovery. Additionally, I honor the victims by teaching CPR and First Aid/AED, providing knowledge and skills useful in an emergency.
After the media trucks move on to their next story, families have buried their loved ones, and normalcy returns to the community, don’t forget about the survivors. They’re left with their own recovery journey. I call on leaders in the community to advocate for accessible mental health services, follow-up wellness checks, and offer relatable solutions for survivors. I also encourage survivors to share what we have learned to model a healing journey.
Let’s honor those who lost their lives by living our best each day. Are you ready?
Claudia Cano is a CLLI friend, and a guest writer for this month’s blog. Claudia Cano is the CEO of Focusing to Learn LLC, a national education and training company that provides leadership consultation and professional development services. She holds a Master’s in Education with an emphasis in Curriculum and Instruction. Claudia has served various leadership roles throughout her career, including adjunct professor at the El Paso Community College, and National Director Training with one of the largest grantees contracted by the Office of Refugee Resettlement for Unaccompanied Children.