HOULTON, Maine — Emotions ran high at the Riverside Gymnasium on Oct. 20 during the 13th annual vigil to remember victims and survivors of domestic violence.
“It is important to bring together a cross-section of people for the event because this is a serious matter and violence is unacceptable,” Maliseet Chief Brenda Commander said that night.
The program included drumming by the Four Winds which Jane Root, director of the Maliseet Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Advocacy Program, said “enters the very soul.” The group performed several times including one performance that was an honor song for men and women affected by domestic violence.
In the gym, a small circle of 11 chairs with white shawls wrapped around the back of each chair, which displayed the name, age and facts about each victim who died in 2010 at the hands of an abuser. The youngest victim was 15 months old.
Colorful shawls with messages written by survivors were hung high around the gym. And, an exhibit titled, “Silent No More, Catch the Dream of Ending Domestic Violence,” which has been staged at the Blue Moon Gallery was on display that evening. The title was also the theme for the vigil.
A large circle of chairs for some 70-75 visitors surrounded the four female drummers who sang, chanted and drummed. At one point, they remembered one of the founders of the group, Sally Joseph, who died recently from a physical illness not related to domestic violence.
One by one, several close family members and friends approached the drummers and stood arm-in-arm. The soft weeping in contrast with the mournful wailing and powerful drumming provided one of the evening’s most touching moments during the tribute to Joseph whose spirit and talent had touched many others in her lifetime.
Several speakers also talked about the torment related to domestic violence.
Guest speaker, Jennifer Irish, who has returned to Houlton after living in other parts of the United States for several years, told the audience about her ordeal of being a teenager married to an abuser. After discussing several unsuccessful attempts to leave her older husband, she expressed hope about her new life following her divorce and her determination to continue a court battle to regain custody of her son with whom she can now visit.
Two men could not retain their composure as they spoke separately through tears about the damaging effect their words had had on their wives and families and how their abusive ways had eventually resulted in the loss of those relationships.
Before releasing purple environmentally friendly balloons during a candlelight walk, guests walked to a table where they had been invited to light a candle of remembrance.
Root said this year’s vigil “was incredible — the most powerful I’ve witnessed in more than 21 years of doing this work.”