By Andrew Wagstaff
AMHERST – Marie Sack had been in an abusive marriage for nine years when her brother Harold came to see her.
“He was going through a bad time in his life also,” she recalled. “He said he had been saving money, he knew what I was going through, and told me to pack up my kids. He said, ‘you’ve got the vehicle, I’ve got the money. Let’s just go.’”
This was on a Friday night, and she convinced her brother to wait one more week for her to finish a course she was taking.
“I woke up Saturday morning with the news that my brother killed himself,” she said. “I often wonder if I had left, would he still be alive today? He was trying to save my life, and ended up taking his own life.”
Sack was the guest speaker at the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women at the Community Credit Union Business Innovation Centre in Amherst on Wednesday, Dec. 6.
Now a women’s rights activist and coordinator supporting the Nova Scotian families impacted by the national inquiry on Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls.
Working with these families. Sack said it became plain to her how easily she could have become one of those murdered or missing women.
She told her own very personal story of sexual, physical, emotional and mental abuse at the hands of her husband in Indian Brook, and feeling like she had nowhere to turn. Sometimes the neighbours would call the band police, bot the officers were friends of her husband, and would do nothing.
“I would run to my grandmother’s and stay there with my daughters, sometimes for a couple of days,” said Sack. “Then he would come and apologize. I knew I couldn’t burden my grandmother with my two kids. I would go back home with him, saying this time he’s going to change.”
But that change never happened, and when she finally convinced herself that she did not deserve it, and started speaking back to him, it only got worse. She would be slapped, punched, and burned with cigarettes.
It was her brother’s death that prompted her to make the break that she needed to.
“When I buried my brother, one of the last things I said was that I’m going to get out of this mess and straighten up my life,” said Sack. “I’m going to make myself an educated, smart, experienced woman that won’t tolerate violence anymore. Since then, all I’ve done is look forward.”
She left her husband, her reserve and her community behind, for her own safety. She received plenty of counseling, went back to school, went to university, and began working as an addictions counselor. She continued to pick up training at every opportunity, as a grief specialist and mental health counselor, and has won awards for her efforts in helping people.
She still has the scars of her former life – from the stitches on her head, her lip, and from the cigarette burns on her body – but they serve a new purpose.
“They are just reminders that you never go back to something like that again, and that you can help other women,” said Sack. “That’s what I choose to do instead.”
She said she tries not to dwell on the past, but focus on how far we have come, and look to the future with optimism.
“We’re going forward in a good way,” said Sack. “We’re never going to stop all the violence in the world, but if we can do it one household at a time, one community, one city, one province… it’s going to help.”
Sack was well received by the large crowd for the lunchtime event in Amherst, which also featured music by Michelle LeBlanc, the lighting of candles for silent victims, a moment of silence, and presentation of ribbons by numerous community organizations