Aftermath: In the Wake of Murder
- Introduction: Darker Than Death
- When violence strikes, it hurts more than the victim. Its horror splashes onto everyone, the victimís family, friends, as well as the community. Murder devours innocent lives with a cruelty that is absent of reason, absent of values, and absent of compassion. Murder breaks all the sacred rules, knows no fairness, and can never be undone or compensated for. It provokes fear and rage and tempts us to battle it on its terms instead of ours.
- Murder drives even the most loving and compassionate people to the edge of that fine line that separates our respect for life from our violent potentials. The aftermath of murder takes us straight through hell where we stand eye to eye with the evil that hides behind human faces, and what we do in the face of that evil defines for us what lies behind our own. The aftermath of murder is nothing less than a full-blown emotional and spiritual struggle.
- Chapter 1: Grief is............
- Grief is more than just a constellation of feelings in response to a loss. When people are grieving, their grief needs to be understood by them on cognitive, emotional and spiritual level and shamelessly affirmed. Grief does not fade with the passage of time, it merely changes. We donít realize our losses in an instant, we realize them over years. We donít get over it, but instead go through it, not just once, but as many times as we do. Through grief we honor our losses and weave them into the tapestries of our lives so we can stay connected with all we have loved and still continue to live on at the same time. We donít honor the dead with funerals alone, we honor them with our lives. Like love, grief is timeless. Like love, you cannot predict exactly how and when grief will manifest. Grief changes form and eludes definition.
- Chapter 2: Is There Peace In Knowing
- Death is intimate, a process ideally attended by our closest of family and friends. With murder, there is nobody there to hold the victimís hand, bless their last breath, or to tell them how much they are loved as they slip away from this world. The victimís last acts and last words are wasted on a heartless killer. And then strangers, such as policemen, paramedics, firemen, doctors, and medical examiners swarm the scene. It can feel so very backwards and out of balance that strangers and murderers are privy to more about our loved onesí deaths than the victimís surviving family members are. The murderer steals not only a life, but also one of the most significant passages of a personís lifetime, death.
- Dealing with the details of the murder is one of the most difficult challenges a murder victim survivor has to face. It is natural, not morbid, to wonder about our loved oneís deaths. How were they murdered? How badly were they violated and brutalized? What were their last moments like? What were their last words? Were they scared? Did they fight? Did they suffer? Is there peace in knowing these details, or are we better off not knowing? Each detail and level of knowing introduces new dimensions of grief and outrage. Nothing is more disheartening than being able to remember the murder scene more vividly than you remember your loved oneís smile. Yet, the unanswered questions can be just as heartbreaking and haunting as the answers.
- Chapter 3: Remembrance And Honor
- The pain of what is missing testifies to the gifts of the life that was shared with us. Grief has as much to do with what has been given as what has been lost. Remembrance and honor play a critical role in reclaiming the meaning of our loved onesí lives and deaths from the murder. In the yearning of grief, the true meaning of a personís life is often revealed in ways never experienced before, ways that re-affirm for us how absolutely precious and unique every life is.
- When people die, they take a piece of everyone that ever loved them to eternity with them. Likewise, when we survive their death, we take a piece of them throughout our lives with us. Only through remembering and honoring the dead, do we come to understand spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally, that our losses and our gifts are one and the same. Part of grieving is discovering that the only thing we take and leave in this world that matters is love. The rest is just a husk that is shed. Love connects our souls across time and space. The love between souls is never really lost.
- As ironic as it may sound, the key to carrying on without our loved ones is not letting go of them, but rather figuring out how to stay connected to them without being revictimized by the cruel and heinous circumstances of their deaths. Honoring the dead is a lifelong spiritual and emotional mission, one dedicated to holding onto the light of their life instead of the darkness of murder.
- Chapter 4: Strangers In The Family
- The murderer takes more than just one life. Murder has the potential of swallowing families and even entire communities whole. When someone is murdered, the family is confronted with issues that are foreign to them. We see parts of each other that perhaps we had never seen before. Family members that have ALWAYS been there for us might withdraw emotionally or just give up. In others, we may witness strength, spiritual depth, and sensitivity that we didnít know was there. Grief and rage transform each member of the family in its own way and in its own time. Some families go through phases when they are barely recognizable to one another.
- The absence of one affects the dynamics of the whole and it is impossible for the family to ever be the same as it once was. Observing others grieve opens new dimensions to our own grief and unmasks the true magnitude of our pain. Grief collides with grief and our varying means of coping become a source of alienation, friction, and pain. Sometimes no one has their foot far enough out of the quick sand to pull the others out, and efforts to help each other just entrench everyone deeper in feelings of despair, defeat, disappointment, and emotional exhaustion. Sometimes the best way to help each other is to admit to our inability to diminish one anotherís pain and simply allow one another the space to grieve. Although it can hurt to see otherís grieve, we cope with grief faster if we can learn from the experiences of each other and understand that we donít have to go through this horror alone.
- Chapter 5: Feeling Alone In A World Full Of People
- Grief is the lone sojourn of wounded spirits trying to find their way back to wholeness. No matter how many people share our grief, no one can bear it for us. Grief is self-absorbing, sometimes leaving us blind, deaf, and mute to those that walk by our side. We walk alone until we find words to speak of our losses and room within our sorrow-laden hearts to embrace the losses that others have endured with us.
- Some relationships bond with grief, other relationships dissipate in it, while others simply drown in it. The tug of war between isolation and our need to feel connected again is part of normal grieving. We experience aspects of this struggle with all our losses. Murder multiplies the dimensions of the conflict between the urge to isolate and the need to connect by throwing violence, trauma, betrayal, and questions of safety and justice into the equation.
- The ability to overcome the isolation and loneliness of homicidal grief ultimately depends on re-establishing and maintaining relationships with the living as well as forging a new sense of connection with our deceased loved ones. If we arenít secure in our sense of connection with our deceased loved ones, we may become frozen in time, afraid that living, changing, and healing will entail moving away from our loved ones. Likewise, if we cannot re-establish our desire and ability to connect with those living, we also run the risk of becoming socially stagnant and left behind by the wagon train.
- Chapter 6: The Illusion Of Fear and Safety
- When the worst thing you can imagine happens, all horrible things become realistic possibilities. The illusion of safety is pierced. Every fear, every precaution becomes as legitimate as your loved ones are dead. There is no such thing as paranoia in a world without safety. The boundaries that define legitimate fear, caution, and denial of danger become blurred. There is no comfortable gray area between reckless and hyper-vigilant. Even amongst family, friends, and professionals, it can be hard to figure out who to trust..
- The fear that the murderer may some day do to other innocent unsuspecting people what they did to your loved ones, is always there. Fears of continued violence and retaliation are not irrational. One person is already dead. How many murders does it take to know that there is legitimate reason to fear? Murder begets murder.
- If we allow fear to take over our lives, we become secondary victims instead of survivors. We may introject the lack of security we feel in our world, into lack of security in ourselves. The less we trust ourselves, the more vulnerable we become. Protecting ourselves from the disease of violence entails protecting and fortifying our souls as well as our homes and finding constructive ways of managing our fear.
- Chapter 7: The Battle of Peace and Rage
- Survivors often wonder, "Will I ever know peace again?" When someone you love is murdered, it's like being robbed and raped by a demon that spreads the seeds of hell inside you. Every facet of remaining a peaceful and compassionate person is instantly tested and continues to be tested repeatedly for years to come. Anger and rage of a magnitude we have never experienced before starts sprouting up all over the place, in our dreams, in our fantasies, in our impulses, in our bodies, in our language, in our relationships, and in our attitudes. We didn't ask for this anger and rage. It was imposed on us. But like it or not, it's ours to deal with now. And so we do, every day, trying to figure out what to do with the rage before it turns our blood into battery acid.
- We would like peace to be a common goal of humanity, but it's not. Even in the best of times, peace does not come easily. Peace is grown and cultivated as we evolve through good faith efforts, acts of reconciliation, mutual understandings, tolerance, and acceptance of ground rules for how we behave and treat one another. Peace is communally nurtured. Yet, our sense of peace can crumble to the ground in an instant with one evil act. On 9/11/01, the United States experienced as a country what it is like to have the most basic sense of peace and safety violated. Initially, all murder leaves for us to work with is torrents of horror, pain, fear, and anger. How can a sense of peace be molded from such intense negative feelings?
- Rage is an instinctive response that erupts from the bowels of our deepest fears and angers. It is the force of desperation that takes over when we feel threatened, powerless, and deeply injured. When we have little to lose because we have just lost everything and all peaceful modes of protection have failed us, rage is the weapon we reach for. You will not know peace until you face your rage and harness it.
- Chapter 8: Justice and Revenge
- Most of us have been spoon fed the fairy tale of justice in America since grade school. We believe in the system just because itís done the American way, and blindly assume that murderers will get theirs. Survivors of murder victims quickly learn that justice is not automatic. It is not guaranteed. It is something that has to be advocated for and fought for because we simply cannot depend on others, even those paid and trained to enforce the law, to be as committed to the pursuit of justice for the victim as we are. We quickly learn that in the silent wilderness of ineptitude and bureaucratic inertia, the drive for justice easily slips back into neutral unless someone is constantly pushing it. And all throughout our exhaustive fight for justice, most of us grapple with the question, ďWhat exactly are we fighting for anyhow?Ē
- What constitutes justice? There is no way to restore fairness to a murder. We will never recoup our losses. No matter what happens to the murderer, he or she DID get away with murder. Even if the murderer is locked up, tortured, and executed, our loved one is still dead. There is no justice for murder on Earth. Justice is a myth, but our whole being screams for it anyhow. The concept of justice gets rendered down to the practicality of extracting truth, determining guilt, delivering punishment, and protecting public safety.
- All the while the wheels of justice turn through seemingly arbitrary and hairsplitting factors, survivors are left churning through every belief and value they once held. What should happen to the murderer? What do you do with people that do gruesome and horrific things to other people? How do you make sure they donĎt kill again? For the victimís survivors, what happens to the murderer becomes a very intense and personal issue that is interwoven with feelings of grief, fear, rage, anger, powerlessness, and betrayal.
- Chapter 9: Survivorsí Guilt And Self Esteem
- The cascade of guilt that flows from murder is incredible. It just keeps pouring and pouring over everyone. Mothers feel guilty. Fathers feel guilty. Brothers, sisters, and friends feel guilty. Everybody tries to think of ways they could have changed the course of events that took their loved oneís life. Why is it, everyone feels soaked in guilt except the person who actually committed the murder? Unresolved feelings of failure and guilt can quickly transform into shame, whittle away at our self esteem, interfere negatively in our relationships, impact performance, isolate us from others, exacerbate depression and despair, and potentially damage every aspect of our life.
- Survivors may feel guilty for not being able to let go of their grief and outrage. They may feel guilty for merely being alive and enjoying life without their loved one. They may believe they don't deserve to be alive anymore than their loved ones deserve to be dead. Harboring this kind of guilt gridlocks us in our grief. We feel too guilty to allow ourselves to heal and feel good again, and then beat ourselves for not healing fast enough.
- If you are struggling with guilt, take a moment and pat yourself on the back. These feelings are telling you something fundamentally good about yourself. Your conscience is working. You have insight. While there is a lot to be learned by facing guilt, be careful not to internalize all the guilt and responsibility that might be thrown your way throughout this ordeal. In the aftermath of murder, shame, blame, guilt, and failure are major themes played out through the justice process. These same themes ache in the hearts of survivors.
- Chapter 10: Forgiveness and Redemption
- Most murder victim survivors at least once during their healing journey are called upon to contemplate forgiveness of the murderer. The impetus sometimes comes from our heart, sometimes from our spiritual beliefs, and other times from the suggestion of another person. Forgiveness definitely has its place. When placed deservingly, it can be a new beginning. It can be peace. When placed undeservingly, it becomes an opportunity for cruel people to hurt more people. None of us have the power to look into the heart of someone else and know for sure whether redemption and remorse is real or whether forgiveness is deserved. Most murderers are masters of deception and manipulation, and their evil thrives on the trust and forgiveness of naive and innocent people.
- Embracing the spirit of forgiveness does not require that we make a judgment about whether the murderer is worthy or not worthy of being forgiven. Forgiveness doesnít mean that murder is o.k. with us. It doesnít mean forgetting what happened to our loved ones. You will never forget. Forgetting is a passive act largely outside of our control. Forgiving is a conscious choice not to continually remind ourselves of the ways we have been hurt and betrayed by others, so that WE donít have to repeatedly endure the emotional pain that comes with these thoughts. Forgiveness of this variety is not an all or nothing process. It canít be rushed. It canít be feigned. It is simply a choice to try to change the emotional energy we bask in every day. If we pre-occupy our emotions by recounting our past hurts, losses, and betrayals over and over and over again, there will be less energy left to count the blessings that come our way each day. From the survivorís standpoint, the murderer has very little to do with the process of forgiveness. The well being of the forgiver is the focus here.
- Chapter 11: The Eclipse of Trauma and Grief
- Grief and trauma naturally eclipse one another. With murder, grief and trauma are in full eclipse. As a result, post traumatic stress disorder often gets overlooked in survivors. It's written off as just a manifestation of grief, or it is never considered simply because the survivor did not actually witness the murder. Many of our emotional, psychological, and spiritual reactions to murder are common to all manners of death, and other aspects are unique to murder. Understanding and distinguishing these sets of reactions can help prevent trauma and grief from grid locking into chronic psychological and emotional torment. For murder victim survivors, the trauma of death is intensified by the dark elements of violence and evil involved, the introduction of a perpetrator, the secondary victimization by the law enforcement and justice systems, and the gross violation of basic and sacred human trusts and values. The trauma experienced by the victim before their death becomes intertwined with the grief and trauma experienced by survivors after the victim's death. Grief triggers the trauma and trauma triggers the grief. If the survivor thinks of their loved ones and it's still all about the murder, the survivor is really still dealing with the trauma and hasn't fully begun to grieve. If the survivor thinks of their loved ones, and it's finally all about them and not the murderer, the survivor has entered a purer stage of grieving. If the survivor thinks of their loved one and smiles instead of cries, they have touched shore on the other side of grief. Healing from the trauma of murder entails reclaiming your loved one's memories, reclaiming the meaning of their life, and reclaiming the meaning of their death from the murderous acts that were perpetrated against them.
- Chapter 12: The Road to Justice: Investigating A Murder
- The primary incentive for wanting a proper investigation is to honor our loved ones, promote public safety, and uphold values of truth, justice, and accountability. Survivors quickly discover that the real road to justice is not jam packed with action and suspense like the valiant sagas we see on television. The path to justice is paved with bureaucracy and littered with pot holes pooled deep with ineptitude, indifference, corruption, and laws that flap in the face of public safety.
- Deaths in our society are routinely processed and sifted through a purview of professionals such as law enforcement officers, paramedics, doctors, funeral directors, and medical examiners, who are trained and paid to attend to the details of death and look closely at every death for signs of foul play that might warrant the next layer of investigation. Traumatic, suspicious, or unexplained deaths are usually followed by an autopsy and at least a brief investigation. Ideally the investigation stays open and active until the victim is identified, the cause and manner of death are determined, and murder is either definitively ruled out, or the murderer is identified and prosecuted. Unfortunately, this is not how it always goes.
- Sometimes the job of uncovering and resolving the murder of their loved ones is left to survivors by default. Investigators eventually move on to new cases that compete with old unresolved cases for time, energy, and investigative resources. Homicide investigation is not a first come first serve type of business. All too often survivors are left to hold the stinging cold reality of an unresolved murder for the rest of their lives. The murder is the first betrayal, and for too many survivors the attitude and failures of law enforcement and the justice system are the second betrayal.
- Chapter 13: The Road To Justice: Prosecuting A Murderer
- The aftermath of murder involves many competing definitions for justice. For some justice is unveiling the truth, convicting the murderer(s), and making them serve a sentence commensurate with their crimes and violations against humanity. For others, justice is having their innocence legally proven. For others, justice is nothing more than successfully manipulating the system to evade accountability and incarceration for crimes committed.
- The prosecution of murder can be a long, confusing, and intensely painful process wrought with frustration and anxiety. Prosecution encompasses everything from the arrest to the verdict and sentencing. The survivors of the murder victim and the community at large have a tremendous amount at stake in the outcome of a system that is essentially foreign to the vast majority of people. There is no clear role for survivors in the criminal justice process, which further exacerbates feelings of powerlessness.
- This chapter walks the reader through the grand jury indictment, the arraignment, plea bargaining, the trial, and sentencing. Perspectives and options are offered to educate, empower, and lend support throughout this extremely anxiety ridden process.
- Understanding the rights of victims and survivors, and being aware of opportunities to have input into the process is critical. Understanding the rights that our justice system affords the criminal before you actually have to witness these rights in action can also help fortify survivors for the challenges ahead.
- Chapter 14: The Verdict And Beyond
- The delivery of the verdict is a solemn moment that marks time. Announcement of the verdict will bring relief to some and outrage to others. The murderer is delivered freedom or accountability. The victim is delivered justice or betrayal. In preparation for either outcome, survivors may develop some expectations about how the verdict will affect them emotionally or otherwise. When the verdict finally comes, it usually brings forth a lot of disillusionment because some of these expectations may have been unrealistic. Getting past the trial helps survivors move into new phases of healing and grief. Energy that was once consumed by the battle for justice is now free to fuel the grieving process. Emotionally, grieving can be more painful than fighting for justice. At the same time, others around the survivor might believe the verdict means closure. Survivors are often in the awkward position of plummeting to new depths of grief and traumatization at the very time others are expecting them to be "over it". Survivors are often shocked to discover that even a guilty verdict doesn't offer real closure in regards to how the murderer will be dealt with. The trial work ends only to be replaced with other tasks such as finding a way to live with the facts of the murder and the outcome of the trial, preparing and reading impact statements to influence sentencing, tracking the murderer through the corrections system, registering in victim notification systems, keeping informed about post conviction proceedings such as appeals and retrials, and advocating before parole boards for the murderer to serve out their maximum sentence. Our criminal justice and corrections system have a way of repeatedly calling everyone back to revisit the nightmare again, and again, and again.
- Chapter 15: Death as Punishment
- The death penalty issue can be a very divisive and emotionally volatile topic for murder victim survivors whether they are pro or anti death penalty. For some the issue is black and white, and for others it is gray. All murder victim survivors internalize the death penalty debate on one level or another, even if their loved one's murderer isn't facing the death penalty. If youíve ever wished the murderer dead, you are facing the death penalty issue. Survivors sometimes find themselves engaged in a debate they didnít invite and are not emotionally prepared for.
- There are strong arguments, valid arguments, and understandable arguments on both sides of the death penalty issue. This chapter does not explore any of these arguments, because this book is about the fate of murder victim survivors, not the fate of murderers. The murderers are the ones that committed such cruel and heinous acts of evil that society has to consider whether it is safe to let them live. Murderers imposed the death penalty issue upon our society, not survivors. When the unresolved issues of a murdererís fate divide the innocent and lead them to turn their backs on their compassion for one another, the murderer wins and everyone else looses.
- No matter what a survivorís opinion is on the death penalty, they need and deserve support and validation as much as any other survivor. Survivors should not be pidgeon-holed as deserving or non-deserving, admirable or non-admirable based on their opinions and feelings about an issue that our society as a whole canít agree on.
- Chapter 16: The Old War On Terrorism
- The events of September 11th brought America as a society more in touch with the feelings every murder victim survivor experiences. The cry for justice and the cry for safety was heard from sea to shining sea. I validate and am behind America in pulling up terrorism by it's roots, delivering justice, and doing what ever is necessary to stop this from happening to anyone else. But, we also need to take in a broader view of terrorism if we hope to truly enjoy a safe and peaceful society. The war on terrorism needs to extend beyond the focus of international political terrorism. We need the same level of commitment and dedication to eradicating violence that occurs domestically every day in our country.
- Although this war has been dubbed the New War On Terrorism, there is nothing new about the events of September 11th. Murder and violence have existed since the beginning of human time. 3,000 lives were lost on September 11th. Every year for the past 30 years, there have been anywhere from 12,000 to 23,000 murders in this country alone. There are streets in our country that arenít safe to walk. People get killed just going about their lives. There are people living in fear. There are murderers wandering free. The personal and collective impact of the murders that occur one by one every day is every bit as devastating as the mass murders of Sept 11th. To those who have lost loved ones to murder, the only thing that really changed on September 11th was that the American community was brought by evil and tragic loss to better understand the impact of murder.
- I hope that the United States as an entity can walk the line that distinguishes us from the perpetrators of terrorism as well as I have seen individual murder victim survivors walk that same line between peace and violence. I hope as a government the insight, introspection, and willingness to spiritually and morally grapple with the impulses of fear and rage are not lost, because that is where the war on violence is ultimately fought. If we are truly dedicated to the cause of eradicating terror, we have to look and act domestically as well as world wide. As King Solomon (635-577 BC) said, "Justice will only be achieved when those who are not injured by crime, feel as indignant as those who are." The war on terrorism will be lost if it stops short of addressing the terror that EVERY murder inflicts on the victims, the survivors, and the community. A single murder stuns a family and community to the degree that 3000 murders in a single coordinated assault stunned the world.
- Chapter 17: Another Kind Of Knowing
- Multitudes of murder victim survivors will confide that they had uncanny feelings, coincidences, thoughts, dreams, fore-shadowings, and even waking visions preceding and surrounding their loved ones deaths. Some survivors sense their loved ones presence, see them, hear them, have visions or dreams of them, and receive signs and symbols from them. Like a lace curtain flowing in the breeze, the veil that separates this world from the next briefly parts, and messages pass between realms. If we are honored and open to receive them, we experience another kind of knowing, something transcending beyond our world, something extraordinary and spiritual. The more we believe in a continuing and co-existing spiritual realm, the more experiences in life we are likely to attribute to interactions with the spiritual world. There are whole cultures of human beings that don't even have words to distinguish real from ethereal, or real from imaginary. They view the physical and spiritual worlds as seamless. You may want to consider whether you really need to label your experience as being "real" or "not real" at all. Sometimes a willingness to acknowledge and consider your experience is all that is needed to make the experience meaningful and helpful to yourself.
- Chapter 18: Letting Go Of Despair
- There is nothing complicated about despair. It is simply misery without hope. Despair is a normal emotional response to loss and experiences of powerlessness, and it has the potential of growing into a chronic self-perpetuating state of being. Despair grows like an invasive vine. It weaves around and around us, choking us off from the promise of life, binding us tighter and tighter to our pain. Beyond this, the only thing anyone really needs to know about despair is how to let go of it.
- Times of misery are inevitable, but we donít have to wed our misery to hopelessness forever. Despair comes upon us without asking, just as the murders of our loved ones did, but despair does not really hold onto us, we hold onto to it. Reclaiming your life from despair is not about fighting and defending yourself from sadness, but rather about letting go and letting in- letting go of what hurts and letting in what heals. It is amazing how difficult something as passive as letting go and letting in can be even for people who desperately want to feel good again.
- Letting go of despair involves first learning to let ourselves grieve. If you have the strength to let the tears come, you will also find the strength to let them go. Our culture is pretty uncomfortable with grief and fairly stingy about how much of it we allow people to do within the bounds of social acceptability. Consequently, there are a lot of people out there with chronic unresolved grief who try to treat it with everything but the act of grieving. Denying your grief would be like denying your love. A world that denies love is nothing but fertile ground for despair to take root. Letting yourself grieve fully is a way of letting yourself love fully and also a way of warding off chronic despair.
- Just as grieving is an act of love for the dead, healing is an act of love for the living. Letting go of despair involves letting yourself do both. Healing is a commitment to yourself to find a way to be o.k., even better than o.k., no matter how long it takes to get there. Letting go of despair NEVER means not grieving. It simply means letting yourself live.