Catastrophic Deaths

Some losses suffered by human beings are tragic and catastrophic. The are sudden, unexcected, unjust and senseless. There is no warning ahead of time to prepare for the shock and trauma of such a loss. If the loss involves a crime the survivors are often left out of the legal proceedings.

However, with the rise of victim witness programs survivors are more involved with legal proceedings. The emotional healing is generally delayed until the litigation is finished. Murder - Murder is always senseless, reckless and leaves the survivors with many unanswered questions and full of rage, confusion and emotional pain. Because murder is such a shock, there is no time to prepare or begin the process of grieving ahead of time. Shock and disbelief are the protective psychological shields that wrap around the survivors for the first several months.

The Virginia Tech faculty and students, Columbine massacre, the three faculty members shot on the University of Arizona nursing school and the Federal Building blow up in Oklahoma City are all recent examples of the flaws in the mental health system and services available in the United States today. These mass murders illustrate the lack of recognition and awareness of severe problems brewing beneath the surface of the perpetrator for years before they commit these horrific acts. How did we fail them? What a terrible price we as a society paid for looking the other way.

Isn't it time to do things differently? My great aunt and her husband, both in their seventies, were brutally murdered by a neighbor who was drunk and went to their home at 3:30 in the morning demanding money to buy more liquor. When they recognized him and saw that he was already drunk, they refused to give him money. He forced himself into the kitchen and, using a knife, stabbed both of these elderly people to death. The couple left three adult children and five grandchildren behind. They were all in shock and couldn't believe what had happened.

So many lives were affected by the stupidity and violence of his alcoholic attack. My cousins, the murderer's wife and children, and all the extended families suffered. The legal system is slow and tedious. After three years he was found guilty but has several years of appeals ahead of him.

The murders occurred in California, where they have a death penalty, but it could be several more years before he is actually executed for his crimes. When a murderer is caught and taken into custody, it is easier to focus the emotional reaction on the culprit. When the perpetrator isn't caught the survivors emotions are fragmented and may be refocused on law enforcement. Other times, the culprit is caught but isn't found guilty of the crime. Consider the O.

J. Simpson case: most people believe he was guilty but got off because he could afford high priced and high profile attorneys. In his case, justice may not have been done.

Murder is often an impulsive act of passion done by someone the victim knows or is related to. Many murders are related to drug trafficing and gang activity. However, sometimes murder is a random act of senseless killing, as in the Lee Boyd Malvo and John Muhammad shootings of people all over the U.S.

They were clearly mentally ill, and the older father figure unduly influenced the adolescent Lee Boyd. In the case of any murder, healing cannot really begin until the legal processes are finished, at least the trial and sentencing. Most victims and families stay stuck in the anger stage until these legal issues are completed.

Support in dealing with the pain and suffering after a murder is tenuous and tentative. Most friends and relatives don't know how to respond. They may worry about prying, or triggering pain, so often they just withdraw.

Being left alone may be what some survivors prefer, but others may prefer to talk about what happened. You need to let people know your preferences. Others will not know the profound and painful emotions you are feeling. Victims of murder have special support groups because this death they experience is very different than other types of deaths. Only people who have experienced a similar loss may be able to relate to your feelings. Many towns in the US have such support groups.

To find one, call National Victim's Rights Assistance (NOVA). The Trauma of Victimization Victims, if they survive, and relatives of victims are both traumatized by a criminal act. The shock leaves them in a state of psychological disruption and disorganization, unable to think clearly or to make decisions.

They will feel overwhelmed and devastated by the shock of the action and the emotional pain caused by the crime for a long, long time. They can't understand why anyone would want to hurt them or someone they love. It is senseless. Their lives may be shattered in a variety of ways.

There may be financial loss and physical injury involved. Survivors often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder; for this reason, seeking counseling is a good thing to do. Frequently, family members are suspected by law enforcement officials, and may be doubly victimized if they are not guilty, as in the Jan Benet Ramsey case in Colorado in 1996.

This family was tormented by the Boulder, Colorado Police Department and by the media, which forced them to get their own attorney and finally to move to another city. In high profile cases the media make every detail of the crime public, which often results in a violation of the privacy of the survivors ? their mourning and the shock of their traumatic loss have not been respected. Victim rights groups believe that education of the public about how the criminal justice system works is critical. They believe that the scales of justice have gradually become weighted in favor of the criminal, not the victim, or the family of the victim.

If the victim is dead, he or she has no rights or legal standing. Whereas a perpetrator who is arrested may get out on bail, have his trial delayed for over a year, and may go through several years of costly appeals before his final punishment is carried out. If the perpetrator kills himself or herself the victims may feel cheated of any judicial closure.

Justice will only be served when those who are not injured by crime feel as indignant as those who are.

Dr. O'Connor's books may be purchased at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble Bookstores and on line at La Mariposa Press http://www.lamariposapress.com http://rockyplointvacationrentals.net

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