Grief transforms into quest to help

EVERETT — Even in the haze of grief, the advocate’s advice stuck with Tonja Jones.

She should try to stay busy, even distracted around the holidays, her nephew’s birthday and the anniversary of his death. Those days would be harder to face, the pain a little sharper, she was told.

Her nephew Derrick Everson was murdered Aug. 20, 2009. Unprovoked, a teenager stabbed Everson 25 times while the two walked along a footpath in Everett with a couple of other young men. Everson was just 21.

Jones helped her mother raise Everson and his older brother. The boys brought her such joy. To see them smile, to hear them laugh was worth more than they could ever know.

Everson’s murder left Jones battered. She was angry and grief-stricken.

She and her mom both sought help from Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims. The Everett-based advocacy group provides support services to crime victims and those who have lost a loved one to violence.

They help families navigate through the days when funeral arrangements must be made and guide them through the weeks, months and sometimes years it takes the criminal justice system to decide what to do with the perpetrators.

It was the agency’s then-victim advocate Kameon Quillen who gently advised Jones to keep busy around some of days that likely would be particularly difficult.

That first year, Jones decided she would honor her nephew on his birthday by collecting coats to donate to local homeless shelters. Everson once stayed at the Everett Gospel Mission men’s shelter. He also knew young people living on the streets, Jones said.

“I thought if I donated jackets, some might even go to someone Derrick knew,” she said.

For the last three years on Dec. 10 Jones has brought coats to those in need.

She’s taken coats from her own closet and solicited donations from friends and co-workers through Facebook.

“It really helps. I can’t describe how much. My heart is so full,” Jones said. “It’s like a big circle. We’ve been helped by Families and Friends and we were helped when we were raising the boys. Now, I’m giving back and honoring Derrick.”

Jones is again collecting new and gently-used coats to donate next month. This year she plans to tuck a little note in the pockets of the adult coats. She’d like people to know that she’s honoring her nephew. She’d like them to know that she hopes the coats bring them comfort.

Jones has found her own comfort in the years since her nephew was taken. She receives support from other survivors she has met through Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims. They understand loss. They understand why Jones needs to talk about her nephew or the murder. They don’t cringe when the details get dark.

The anger has loosened its grip on her life.

“My bad days are less and less,” Jones said.

Now, when she thinks of her nephew, her memories are of his life, not his death. She sees the handsome boy, riding his bicycle during a camping trip, telling her he loves her to Heaven and back.

Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; hefley@heraldnet.com.

Derrick Everson Memorial Coat Drive

New or gently-used coats can be donated until Dec. 7 at Families and Friends of Violent Crime Victims, located at 3807 Colby Ave., Everett. The coats will be given to local homeless shelters.

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