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Jay, Pina and Amanda

When tragedy so cruelly invaded their world, Maria Catroppa's family could easily have crumbled. After all, the beloved Italian mother and grandmother – the one who always had a smile on her lips, a hug at the ready and a meal for anyone at her door – was taken from them suddenly, horrifically, by someone they'd welcomed into their family a decade earlier. But “Nana” wouldn’t have wanted that. She would have told her granddaughter Amanda Osterman and daughters Jay Tuason and Pina Osterman to keep living their lives, to somehow pull something positive from the most negative, heart-wrenching situation they’d ever face.

It was an early fall morning in 2009 when Catroppa was murdered by her husband of 10 years. He stabbed her 126 times in her bedroom. At his trial it was revealed the two had been having marital problems and he was angry that Catroppa wanted him to leave. At the time, Jay depended on family support and the rage she felt toward her mother’s killer. "I wouldn't allow him to do this to us. It fueled me,” she says. Her sister Pina also took solace in family bonds, but also recalls the simmering anger she once harboured for the man who stole her mother.

For Amanda, it was different. There was a time when she cared for her grandmother’s killer. He was the grandfather figure she yearned for and she formed a bond with the man from a young age - a bond that was instantly severed when he did the unthinkable. "For me, I felt I lost her and him," says Amanda. Around her grieving family, she didn't always want to talk and felt guilty for ever caring for her step-grandfather. She needed a secondary outlet, and creativity became her salvation. "Music was powerful to me and I drew power from it," she says. “I needed to let my emotions out. It was important for me to know it was okay for me to feel the way I did."

More than seven years later, the healing continues for all three women. "It's been a process. I think we each have to find our own way," says Jay. They’ve been vocal about the fact they didn’t recognize the subtle signs their beloved matriarch was a victim of domestic violence. And they all agree that the most uplifting, restorative thing they’ve done is establish a scholarship in Catroppa’s name. She raised her four children alone after losing her husband in a hunting accident in 1973, so the Maria Catroppa Memorial Award is given annually to single mothers who might not otherwise be able to further their education. "The scholarship was a wonderful thing that came out of such a tragedy," Pina says, smiling at the pure joy she feels when she meets the recipients each year.

Jay says she tries to imagine, years from now, how much the women and their children have benefited. The award not only perpetuates their mom and grandmother’s giving spirit, but lifts theirs immeasurably. It’s about finding the positive – always. "That comes from Nana. We learned that from her," says Amanda.