By Garrett Cabeza, Daily News staff writer Mar 5, 2018 Updated Mar 5, 2018
Rev. Elizabeth Stevens of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Palouse and about 15 others gathered Saturday at Friendship Square in Moscow to honor people with disabilities who have been murdered by a family member or caregiver.
The vigil was in response to the national Disability Day of Mourning, which occurred Thursday.
A woman read 88 names of people with disabilities who were killed by a relative or caregiver last year in the U.S. After each name was read, Stevens gently hit a Buddhist singing bowl with a mallet and the group recited, “You are not forgotten.” Another person turned on 88 LED light candles one-by-one during the ceremony to represent the lives lost.
“Each of these names represents a life, a person with likes and dislikes, gifts and challenges,” Stevens said. “Each of these names holds a story, a story that will break your heart.”
Stevens told the small crowd trying to stay warm on a chilly and somewhat windy morning that they gathered for two reasons.
“First, we want to affirm that there are as many ways of being human as there are humans,” Stevens said. “Some of us have bodies that work differently than others. Some of us have minds that work differently. Normal is only a setting on the clothes dryer.”
She said they were also there to remember the victims of filicide, a term used when talking about a parent or other relative murdering a child or adult relative with a disability.
“It’s so very sad to think about the people with disabilities who were killed by family members or caregivers,” Stevens said. “But it’s important to acknowledge that their lives were precious and that their deaths were not isolated incidents but symptoms of a larger problem, which is not just lack of social support for people with disabilities and their families, but a lack of respect for the sacred humanity of all people.”
Stevens said Palouse residents pride themselves on being a caring community, but in 2013, a 67-year-old man died due to neglect while his caregivers took nearly $50,000 from his bank account.
“We’re gathered here today to lift up the humanity and the dignity of all people always,” Stevens said. “People are never things and we are here to celebrate the beauty inherent in our interdependence. Love weaves us together faster than hate can tear us apart.”
Mark Leeper, executive director of Disability Action Center NW in Moscow, said it is a sad reality that sometimes people are faced with circumstances in which services simply are not available or people are not aware of them.
“Hopefully, it’s through some of the awareness activity like this that we can end up with support so folks can get connected,” Leeper said. “And sometimes, when people feel either they themselves don’t have any options or families feel they don’t have any options, they can recognize that there are really good connections.”
Stevens said everyone is precious, beloved and has inherent worth and dignity.
“It is our sacred duty to care for one another in the ways we are able,” Stevens said. “Giving and receiving love and care is our purpose on this Earth.”
The list of 88 includes people from ages 2 to 96. Stevens told the Daily News after the vigil that some were killed violently while others died of neglect.
She said she invites people to support local organizations that work hard on behalf of those living with disabilities.
Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.