A year ago, Megan Sullivan lost her older brother Alex in the Aurora theater shooting. Today, the 26-year-old is still healing -- and has dedicated herself to helping others do the same through the non-profit Aurora Rise organization and a women's support group she leads at the new Aurora Strong Community Resilience Center. It's a position she never thought she'd be in.
"There are times when I feel I don't know what my path is, but my brother does," Sullivan says, "and he's putting me in the right place at the right time."
On Saturday, one year after the tragedy, Aurora Rise is hosting a fundraiser at True Blue Tattoo in Lakewood. The shop will be offering $20 memorial tattoos all day and will hold a silent auction from 2 to 5 p.m.
Aurora Rise, which was founded by the manager of All C's Collectibles, a comic-book store where Alex Sullivan was a customer, will also be on hand, selling its merchandise and spreading its mission to help victims with "with small acts of assistance and kindness."
Jerry Chacon, a tattoo artist at True Blue, has a personal connection to the tragedy. Three of his friends were shot that night. They'd gone to see The Dark Knight Rises premiere with Alex Sullivan, though Chacon didn't know the 27-year-old Sullivan. Watching his friends recover from their injuries, Chacon realized he wanted to do something to help. "A lot of people who survived it are still having a hard time paying their bills," he says.
Chacon and his colleagues have come up with several tattoo designs that they'll be offering for $20; customers can choose to be inked in either black-and-white or color and can elect to include personal names in simple fonts.
Megan Sullivan, who sits on the board of Aurora Rise, doesn't yet know whether she'll be at the event. She and her family got tattoos memorializing Alex earlier this year. Megan's is on her foot; it's a shamrock accompanied by the Gaelic word for "my brother."
She's trying not to make definite plans for the anniversary of the day that she lost her only brother. "I'm open to anything and okay with (doing) nothing," she says.
Immediately after the shooting, Sullivan says she struggled. She suffered anxiety attacks and had trouble sleeping. "I was so overwhelmed and out of touch," she says. She found relief in meditation after a friend told her about holistic health guru Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey's 21-Day Meditation Challenge, a free online "guided meditation journey."
"That was exactly what I needed at that point in my life and it's helped a lot to realize my own potential and that I can do this, I'm capable of doing this," she says.
Connecting with a high school classmate who lost her own brother several years ago also helped, Sullivan says. "Being able to talk with someone who also lost a sibling and talk about that moment where you're like, 'I'm not crazy for having these feelings'" was therapeutic, she says. "I had a life planned for me and my brother for the rest of my life. I was going to be an aunt, whereas now I don't have that."
With help from the HeartLight Center, a non-profit grief-support organization in Denver, Sullivan formed a women's support group. Many of the attendees knew her brother, while others also lost a loved one in the theater. When the Aurora Strong Community Resilience Center opened, Sullivan decided to move the group there because it seemed like a perfect fit. The group meets on Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. at 1298 Peoria Street in Aurora.
"I'm so glad they were able to open and offer this service," Sullivan says, "so the greater Aurora community can realize there is someone there to help you."
Sometimes, that someone understands better than they ever thought they would.
Continue to see a flyer for the tattoo fundraiser, as well as a bigger image of the designs. True Blue Tattoo is open from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.