Her Daughter a Murder Victim, An Ohio Mother Reaches Out to Other Grieving Parents
What was the impact of the death of your daughter?
Our world was shattered. In the first few weeks we were literally held up by friends and neighbors, who surrounded us with love and caring. Then there came a time when this dropped off, as it naturally does. People have their own lives to live, and they went back to them. But a very vital part of my family was gone. My world would never be the same. And it amazed me that the rest of the world went on as usual. How could I do things like shop for groceries or clean the house when my Lisa was dead? I couldn't think of anything else. I had a tremendous need to talk about what had happened, but I found few people were able to listen.
Is that when you looked for help?
Yes, but I found nothing except a priest who had done a lot of work with the grieving. So I called him and he gave me the numbers of two other sets of parents who had had children murdered. I contacted them and asked if they would like to come and meet with us. That's how the group got started.
Didn't you feel uncomfortable calling those parents?
I'm normally a very private person and I don't like to intrude on anybody. I hesitated before I made any calls or wrote any letters. But I have not had one person tell me, "You know you're intruding, you're butting in." One woman over in Kentucky calls me like clockwork every other Friday afternoon and we talk for two hours. Her son was killed on a Friday afternoon.
Do you have any advice for the parents of the children murdered in Atlanta?
First of all, it helps if you have some awareness of what you're going through. Not having been through it before, you don't know what to expect. In the beginning, for maybe one, two or three weeks, you're completely numb and your friends and neighbors say, "Oh, she's doing so well." But it's only because it hasn't really sunk in yet. Your body has just not accepted it. You go through the funeral and the burial, and just about the time everyone is going home it begins to sink in. Everybody says, "She's fine." And that's when you fall apart. When you're alone.
What happens next?
The body reacts to the shock the same way it does to major surgery. But employers don't know what's happening. Teachers in school don't. Our son was 16 and couldn't concentrate. He had nightmares, he couldn't get up in the morning. And his teachers would say, "You should be over that by now, Rob." What a lack of understanding! I went back to teaching two weeks after the funeral and nobody said a word. They had sent me flowers, but I would say something about Lisa's death and they would quickly change the subject. I guess they think they're doing you a favor. They're not. Anyone in the situation needs to talk about it.
Is this especially true when a child is murdered?
Violent death brings anger so intense most people can't stand it. We find that those who would normally be helpful, like people in the church, especially don't like these unacceptable emotions and will try to smooth them over with platitudes like "It's God's will" and "You've got to accept it." I think the most helpful thing to say to all that is "Baloney!" People have to be allowed their anger. Those feelings are there.
How should other children in the family be handled?
I don't care how young they are, they can sense something is going on. Give them a chance to participate in the grieving process. Don't try to keep everything inside and act as if nothing has happened. If there are young children in school, they may need to talk to their teachers. The parents may be so broken up they won't be able to handle all the children's problems.
What are the effects on a marriage?
Husbands and wives must be very careful with each other because of the strain this puts on them both. In any family where a child is lost, no matter what the cause—illness, accident or whatever—there's a strong chance the marriage will break up. A couple's sex life can be affected. There may be very little contact for a long time. And it doesn't necessarily mean that someone is falling out of love. But it does mean that they're going through difficult changes. You just don't know how long it will take.
Have you recovered from your daughter's death?
I would say I'm back to reconstructing my life. But it will never be quite the same. And I think there should be a realization of that. Something will always be missing and there will always be a sadness. Anything can trigger it.
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