By Gina Pelusi
My mom couldn’t go anywhere in town without a child bounding up to her with a big smile and a bubbly “Hi, Miss Ruthanne!” She was their beloved music teacher, a real-life rock star whose fingers flew across her piano as her voice belted out the sound of pure joy.
Sometimes the kids who ran into Miss Ruthanne outside of her music room were shy, or confused why she wasn’t behind her beloved piano. Many wanted to hug her and tell her they missed her, or fill her in on the instruments they had taken up over the summer. Sometimes they met at their mutual favorite place: the ice cream shop, where they would eagerly tell her they were signing up for another semester of singing, playing and laughing.
Music was the thread that wove my mom’s life together. She started teaching piano when she was in high school. When my little sister was born, she started teaching music classes for babies and toddlers. She brought those same melodies and that same sense of playfulness to her life as our mom.
She was always there with a kind word, a happy tune, a sympathetic ear or a freshly-made meal. When her neighbors had babies, she dropped off a dish without even leaving her name. She lived her faith through song and with a quiet grace that inspired others.
It wasn’t always quiet, of course. My mom’s big night was Christmas Eve, when she presided over a boisterous, joyous sing-a-long with every generation of our family at her annual caroling party. Ever the teacher, she led our entire family in song, kept us in tune and conducted relatives on the guitar, accordion, trumpet and violin. Crammed into every corner of her living room, we found our silliness together. It was our favorite night of the year.
The man who shot and killed my mom in the doorway of our home in the middle of the day took much more from us than we ever imagined in those first horrible hours and days after her death. He took her song, her joy and her heart.
But he also took those Christmas Eves filled with music and laughter. After my mom was killed, we never had that party again. No one could do all that she did. People were afraid to come to our home. And very few people want to sit at her piano, more than seven years later.
The man who shot my mom was a convicted felon who should never have had access to the gun he used to shatter my family’s life and the lives of the two other people he killed. He should never have been able to turn his hatred toward total strangers deadly.
And yet, in our country where access to guns is far too easy and background checks don’t happen on every sale, he could.
The heartbreak of knowing my family isn’t alone in our grief and anger spurred me to join Moms Demand Action. We are a nation of survivors: on an average day, more than 100 people in the U.S. are shot and killed and more than 200 others are shot and wounded. Too many families know the heartbreak I live with every day.
Surrounded by her young music students, my mom longed to be a grandmother. But instead of spending my pregnancy picking out clothes with her or painting my son’s nursery together, I spent it sitting in a courtroom at the murder trial of the man who killed her. My mom was so kind and gentle, to have her taken in such a violent way is beyond comprehension.
It took time for me to find my voice after my mom’s death. But I now wear orange for her because our voices as survivors matter.
And during this Wear Orange Weekend, inspired by Hadiya Pendleton’s friends and family after Hadiya was shot and killed on a Chicago playground seven years ago, we have the power to show lawmakers the true toll of their inaction.
We have the power to show our neighbors that gun safety isn’t a red or blue issue, it’s a life or death issue. We have the power to change our country’s culture of gun violence.
It took several days after my mom was killed to think about the number of kids in the community who were going to be faced with her absence.
But her legacy is that she brought the joy of music to countless children and was a mentor for all who came in contact with her, whether it was at the piano or over an ice cream cone. I raise my voice now because it’s what my mom would want me to do — whether through song or advocacy, we can change minds and change hearts.
Gina Pelusi is a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in Pennsylvania.