MELISSA DOHME REMEMBERS how she felt that dark night as she
walked out of her house to meet her former boyfriend. She thought
the darkness seemed a bit eerie, and she felt apprehensive.
She and Robert Burton had been friends for some time before
it turned into a relationship. Robert came from a troubled,
dysfunctional family background. As time passed it became
apparent that he felt seriously threatened and jealous over
Melissa’s decision to pursue a degree in nursing. He became
verbally demanding and then physically abusive. After one
malicious attack, Melissa made the decision to end the
relationship in spite of his threats to kill her if she did.
After three months of separation, Robert began contacting
Melissa repeatedly by phone, begging her to meet him
one last time for a farewell hug and final closure to their
relationship. Initially she refused, but he persisted with
begging and tears. She finally agreed only because
he promised to leave her alone permanently
if she would meet with him one final time.
What happened at that meeting was
horrific. Robert stabbed Melissa 32 times
and left her for dead outside her home.
A passerby happened to witness the last
moments of the stabbing and called 911.
Melissa suffered multiple stab wounds to
her face and arms and lost a large quantity
of blood. She was still conscious and able
to speak to the young emergency rescue
officer who soon arrived on the scene. As
the rescue officer quickly evaluated her
blood-covered form, he was amazed that
she was still conscious. The desperate look
in her eyes and cries of “Help me; I’m dying!”
have haunted him.
Only when being loaded onto a transport
helicopter did Melissa allowed herself to drift
into unconsciousness. She was flown to a hospital
trauma center and placed on life support. Shortly
after that she suffered a stroke as a result of the
significant blood loss. The surgeon and medical staff
did not expect Melissa to survive.
When you forgive, you in no way change the past, but you sure do change the Future.—Bernard Meltzer
LIFE CAN KNOCK US DOWN.
No one, not even the luckiest of us, escapes some of life’s hits. Injustice, sickness, accident, loss, and major change are just a few of the hard blows that can occur at any time. Thankfully, most of us will never experience an event as traumatic as did Melissa; nevertheless, dealing with threatening circumstances can be a challenging task. There is no guarantee against misfortune—whether minor or life-changing. It’s how we adapt to and use these events that makes a difference to our quality of survival, overall health, and potential for helpfulness to others.
BEWARE OF EMOTIONAL PITFALLS.
Whenever something bad happens to us, care should be taken to avoid engaging in some of the more negative, unhealthy responses, such as:
• Self-victimizing talk: “Why me?” “Bad things always happen to me.” “This is so unfair!”
• Self-depreciating comments: “It’s all my fault.” “I’m always making dumb mistakes.” “I should have seen this coming.”
• Anger and blame: We let frustration overwhelm us and lash out at the incident, blaming and accusing others.
• Dejection and depression: If we don’t manage our emotions well, we can feel defeated by life, lose hope, and sink into despair.
KNOW YOU HAVE A CHOICE.
While we cannot always control what happens to us, we can choose our reactions. Roadblocks and obstacles can become growing experiences.
Melissa had a long road to complete emotional and physical healing. Although not without moments of discouragement and days of hard work with various therapies, she consistently demonstrated a strong will to survive. She also engaged in the following helpful strategies:
1. Realize you are not alone: No matter what the incident, the support of friends and family is essential. There is healing in knowing that
you are loved, that you are valued, and that help is available.
2. Release frustrations: Whatever the incident, you can be sure someone else has gone through much the same experience and can understand the frustrations and discouragements involved in recovery. In Melissa’s case, the hospital engaged a woman who had also
survived a devastating domestic attack. It was she who provided the most helpful, ongoing emotional support and encouragement to Melissa, such as when she first looked at herself in the mirror and with shock gazed at her damaged and changed face.
3. Choose to be objective:We can take responsibility for the feelings that result from an incident. Step away from purely emotional reactions and look at the situation objectively. In most cases the incident was just that—an incident. Evaluate the causes, the results, and the lessons learned; then set some goals. Melissa refused to be a passive recipient of injustice. In the court trial that eventually occurred, she looked Robert in the face and told him she realized he had intended to end her life, and for that he should be imprisoned. This was an empowering moment for her.
4. Set goals: It’s important to evaluate the incident and make some plans and set goals in order to normalize life again and move on into the
future. Melissa was initially told she would likely never walk again. She worked hard at her physical therapy sessions and learned not only to walk again on her own, but she also was able to walk across the platform that year at her graduation ceremony.
5. Choose to forgive: In the event that a wrong was committed against you, forgiveness does not turn that wrong into a right. It is instead
the choice to give ourselves permission to release the hurt and pain. Since we have been freely forgiven by our Creator, we, out of thankfulness and compassion, ought to forgive others. During the final court hearing involving Melissa, she further addressed Robert, saying she forgave him and was letting go of the hatred and negative emotions against him, choosing to live her future life in peace and joy.
6. Don’t forget gratitude: It is an inspiring example that Melissa, out of gratitude, eventually returned to thank all those who were involved in saving her life: the police officer who first arrived on the scene, the emergency rescue team, the surgeon who repaired all her injuries, the nursing staff, and others. Gratitude can greatly help in recovery from a traumatic event, making the experience less intrusive and corrosive. Choosing to focus on things for which we can be thankful makes life happier and healthier. “No matter what happens, always be thankful, for
this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18, TLB).
WHAT WILL I DO WITH “THIS”?
Melissa is convinced she is alive today because God saved her. She believes she is called to educate young women about domestic abuse and violence. She is also using her voice to speak for those who are afraid to speak, and for others for whom it is too late.
Along with choosing how to react in adverse situations, let’s also consider how we can benefit ourselves and others by what we have learned and overcome. In considering the very question of how we can use “this” for good, we are already beginning to change an unpleasant event
into something of benefit and blessing.
Read Melissa’s incredible story on https://www.cbsnews.com/news/48-hours-live-totell-one-last-hug/.
• Amy Newmark and Deborah Norville, Chicken Soup for the Soul : The Power of Gratitude: 101 Stories About How Being Thankful Can
Change Your Life (Cos Cob, Conn.: Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC, 2016), pp. 1-5.
• Laura Archera Huxley, You Are Not the Target (New York: Marlowe & Company, 1998), pp. 69-75.