superb book about surviving grief ...
My mother stared at me without much recognition and in a monotone,
drawled: "Your father was murdered." ...
And so I stood, my hand now wet on the doorknob, aware of a growing
impenetrability within. Everything assumed the resonance of consciousness.
The mortuary chair against the wall acquired a new meaning. My sinciput
dragged my face to the floor. Other cities in my eyes, imagine. Blue
sound between each glacier thought ... I glanced away and stared instead
at the window sash. My heart beat very cautiously. I was aware of it
as one is conscious of a tall-case clock somewhere within the darkness
of a hallway. Sore knee. Shuffled my patent leather feet. My flesh was
tallow pale against the oakwood of the door. What had she said?
Try as I did, I could not remember. Each blink of mine was a kind of
thunder. The ceiling fell. That sudden torpor. A scream brewing within
me and then just that sulphurous silence. Cease, ceasefire ... my father,
his existence and then death. And not just dead, but murdered ... This
was exceptional ...
The fire had been lit and was prettily twinkling. Had they stabbed him?
I sank deeply into the sofa and studied the hearth. Arctic peoples regard
the Aurora Borealis as the dance-fire of the ghosts. The fragrant logs
cheerfully burst. Had he been strangled, suffocated, shot? ... I had
never realized that all flames are quite translucent. In cremation,
fire is thought to separate the body from the soul. To hear such news?
It was to swallow cloud: cold altocumulus upon my tongue ...
The newspapers outdid each other in their efforts to analyse the sniper
and his motivations. One blamed the welfare state, another blamed "the
breakdown of the nuclear family," a third roped in a specialist who
contemplated chemical imbalances with specious ease. It made absorbing
The Pure Weight of the Heart, by Antonella Gambotto-Burke
helping when a loved one has been murdered
By Wanda Henry-Jenkins
When a former high school classmate was murdered during a fight, I was
saddened. When my sisterīs brother-in-law was slain several years later
by a drug-crazed man, I helped the family get through the funeral and
burial. But, on February 12, 1972, homicidal loss became my own personal
experience when my mother was killed.
My mother left behind nine children, my father and her mother to mourn
her murder, but we never shared our suffering together beyond the funeral
and burial. We were eleven individually bereaved persons, each trying
to handle his or her own grief.
At the same time, we were putting on happy faces and trying to encourage
one another that we could go on living. All the while, other family
members, friends, news media, police, clergy, mortuary personnel and
curious onlookers were peeping in on our devastation.
The murder was never solved, and within two weeks of her homicide we
(her bereaved family) were left alone and expected to recover without
much help or direction. Though all death leaves behind human pain and
suffering, murder is preventable, and it screams terror, mutilation
and "bad" death.
No one, regardless of place or goals in life, should
The sad truth is, however, that every day nearly sixty families experience
the agony of learning that a loved one has been murdered. Both immediate
and distant family members and friends are caught up in the shock and
outrage of such violent loss of life.
Murder is like a violent thief in the night, causing great suffering.
The funerals of murder victims often attract large crowds, but once
the ceremonies are over, few remain with the bereaved to help dry their
tears or relieve the burden of their pain.
Family members are encouraged to recover and heal from the violent wound
in their emotional fabric, but no one tells them how to heal. Friends,
church and community members, and co-workers can become facilitative
comforters who help themselves and the family to feel cared for through
the journey to recovery.
Here are some suggestions that may help:
If you would provide comfort and consolation, be open to accept whatever
statements of pain and rage those who have experienced homicidal loss
may express. Immediately after a homicide the bereaved may make some
terribly shocking statements.
Do not attempt to be the survivorīs conscience.
Just listen carefully and respond compassionately to their needs. Emotions
following homicidal loss often range from numb passivity to overwhelming
rage. Survivors may appear the same outwardly, but they are irrevocably
They cannot go back to being the same person they were before, but they
can become renewed and healthy.
Some of the things that survivors say they want to do could harm themselves
or someone else if they were carried out. Be observant and keep a close
watch on friends or family members. They are secondary victims in the
awful aftermath of murder.
You have probably watched a news telecast or read a newspaper account
where a bereaved person sought out and killed the murderer of their
loved one. When multiple family members have been killed, some survivors
no longer want to live.
Without appropriate support, they may attempt or
By your presence, encourage them that they are not alone. Take them
out to dinner or to a movie, hug them and encourage grief counseling.
Honestly share your own grief experiences with your friend, but donīt
try to identify with the experience of someone else. You can be a bridge
over the murky waters of murder by seeking to understand how bereaved
survivors see their experience.
One survivor reported that the dawning of her recovery from turmoil
came when she was told by another grieving survivor, "I canīt tell you
how to feel. I can only share what it was like for me when my son was
Another said that the cloud of tragedy she felt over her life began
to lift when a friend asked, ""Tell me what you are feeling, because
I have never known anyone who was killed."
The most miserable "comforters" are those who have all the answers!
"It was too late at night for a woman to be out," or, "He was in the
wrong place at the wrong time." Also, "What did you expect? They were
drug dealers," and, "If you play, you must pay."
These statements or similar ones only serve to hurt and further isolate
There are times when itīs best to not say anything. Murder is a mixture
of pain and frustration that is not helped by judgment.
be respectful + loving
Those who have been bereaved by murder are already upset with God and
humanity. Their faith in fair play and divine protection has been destroyed.
Such statements as, "Only the good die young" only infuriate them and
hamper their ability to mourn effectively.
Show the kind of respect and love to the bereaved that you would want
to receive under the same conditions.
Homicide bereavement is cyclical in nature. The three cycles of grief
are crisis, conflict and commencement. The crisis period is from the
time of death notification through the burial.
Conflict begins with the trial and ends after the sentencing of the
The commencement cycle begins when the survivor is ready to grieve the
loss and move toward a healthy resolution. Cycles can intermingle, and
relapses in grief recovery are common among survivors of murder victims.
Complicating circumstances may be the arrest of the murderer, the trial
itself, the parole or death of the murderer or an unsolved murder.
Mourning is hard work and it takes time; sometimes many years. This
is especially true in the case of an unsolved murder. The amount and
quality of available lay, peer and professional support can make a major
be supportive + available
In the aftermath of murder, it is common for survivors of murder victims
to feel alone. However, the grim and escalating statistics from FBI
records and emergency room files report multiple thousands of new murder
victims are added yearly.
Survivors often can be helped by support groups that are especially
for families of murder victims, but sometimes the hardest step is going
to the first group session. As a caring friend, your most effective
support may be to accompany your survivor / friend to the group meeting.
One best friend reported to a support group, "I am here to learn how
to help my friend."
Being available is the best support a friend can provide.
be aware of your own needs
Since some friends and coworkers may have spent their time with the
person who was murdered, they may not know the family members as well.
Be aware of your own grief needs in the aftermath of tragedy. Share
your feelings and how you are resolving your grief. The best thing a
friend did for me was to cry over my loss. I felt she loved me and recognized
my great pain.
Remember, there may be times when you cannot help your friend due to
your grief, family obligations or professional competence. Admit your
feelings to your friend and refer him to another part of the support
be knowledgeable about available resources
Survivors of murder victims sometimes do get stuck in their grief. They
report continual nightmares, suicidal
or homicidal ideas, excessive drinking or
the use of drugs.
Any of these reasons are important enough to warrant a
visit to a professional.
Call your local homeopath, mental health organization,
district attorneyīs office or victimīs assistance program to discover
who may be the appropriate caregiver. Then, gently suggest to your friend
that professional intervention may help to resolve the grief.
These are only suggestions for helping someone whose loved one was murdered,
but by following these steps you can provide comfort, compassion and
In the end, you will also strengthen your family ties or friendships.
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Copyright 2006 Bereavement Magazine