“I still remember the last time I saw you. You were pumping gas at the corner station as I was driving up the road. I hit the horn a bit to get your attention. You looked up and saw me and smiled. Your giant arm extended into a wave and I swear I watched as your face went from expressionless to full on smile. Driving off, I never imagined that that would be the last time. I never imagined that your life would end in the coming hours…
The last time at the gym you were not yourself at all. You barely lifted. You were still processing where your life had gone the past few months. The birth of your child was something you had been looking forward to since you learned your wife was expecting. You and your wife had purchased a home and began decorating it. You were there with her in the hospital as she gave birth, you were beyond ecstatic but so much changed then.
Shortly after your child was born your wife changed towards you. She told you that she wanted a divorce. She told you that the baby was not actually yours. Maybe she thought it was at first, maybe she never intended to lie to you. I’ll never know. She did not want your name on the birth certificate. She was leaving you for her boyfriend, the one who “really” was the father. You were crushed. You wanted the baby as yours and intended to fight in court about it…
Court did not go well for you. You were given limited access to the child. You were devastated that your family was now his. You poured your heart out to me as I went from station to station. After an hour or so, I tried to lighten up the mood a bit with some off color jokes. I made you laugh a few times and you thanked me and took your leave. We talked about some future plans as I went back to lifting. That was the next to last time I saw you. It was the last time we talked. I wish I had seen the signs. I wish I had known what to do, I was still a teen and you were older.
Walking into my house, my dad was watching the news. The news crew was talking about the horrific scene that had just played out. A man had entered his estranged wife’s home and shot and killed her. Her lover, seeing the shooting, jumped out of a window to safety. He did not chase the lover and instead shot and killed himself with two shots, one to the chest and one to the head. I’ll never understand how both shots were possible. The now parentless child was physically unharmed but their life would never be the same.
I remember the news and thinking that you were going through all the same things that this man was but that you would never hurt anyone. You had always been so peaceful, so kind. I was going to talk to you about this tragedy the next day at the gym and talk about how much better you were handling it. I was going to talk about the pointlessness of it all. There was so much more I wanted to say to you about this. Until I walked into the gym…
The next day I was greeted at the door by a mutual friend who asked me if I had heard about you. I replied that you were going through a lot but last I saw you, you were pumping gas into your truck. That’s when I learned that you were the man in the news. The kind man that I had known had killed his wife and then himself. Your child and her lover were in the room when it happened. It was like you died twice for me that day. First your actual death and then the death of the kind man that I always had known.
I didn’t go to your services. I was told they were made private due to the circumstances. I did not go to hers either. I had never met her though I grieved for her. No matter what she may or may not have done (I only had your version of events, not hers), no one deserves to be killed. I grieved for and still care for and wonder what became of your child. How could I ever approach the family and try to meet them? What would I say, that I was friends with the man that may have been your father but who was in fact that man that killed your mother?
I tried talking to coworkers and friends that did not know you. I was trying to process the loss and make sense of it all but most folks simply asked me “wow, was he always a freaking psycho?” Many also said that the world was now better without you. Some looked at me differently now simply for having known you.
I grieved for the most part alone. It was weird going back to the gym afterwards, it was like you were there but that feeling was not as comforting as it would have been had your died peacefully. In time I moved forward and then I thought I saw your truck around town. It was very distinctive. It was like a ghost, it seemed to appear and then disappear. At times it was almost like it was following me.
One day I pulled into pick up a friend and saw your truck in the lot. I asked about it and found out it belonged to a coworker. Eventually I spoke to her about it and learned that it was indeed your truck but she had not known you. It had spent time sitting beside your parents’ house after your death. It was a constant reminder to them that you were gone and how. They sold it cheaply just so they would not have to see it every day. I found it profoundly ironic that your truck was sold to a daycare provider, as you had once cared so much for children yet had done something so bad to your own.
Walking up to the truck brought out many emotions. I did not open the doors but instead thought of all the times I had seen you and your truck. I thought of the last time I saw you. I wondered if there was something that I could have done. I wondered if anyone could have prevented that last action of yours. So many broken dreams. If only you could have been stopped, the world would be far different for everyone involved. So many could have beens, many more never to be’s.”
As clinical professionals we often deal with grief. Losing someone close to you is never easy even if your personal and religious beliefs believe that your loved one is going to someplace far better and that our life here is but a stage of a much larger path. Some deaths can be classified as “simple” or “uncomplicated” grief as it is seen as more of a natural process and occurrence. Though this will surely be complicated and emotional, support from loved ones, friends and the community can be counted on. Other times the death is far more complicated such in the case of a murder suicide like the story above. For folks who lose someone that also took the life of others, there is often a lack of support from the community and others. At times this lack of support can also include ridicule, scorn, threats and the defacement of headstones, personal property and the property of those that were affiliated with the murderer.
The story above was not from a client, to avoid any privacy related issues, I wrote from a personal experience from my teen years. I did not use any names in order to help protect the privacy of those involved. They have been through enough. There was much, much more that I could have written. This affected me in many ways and I am sure was one of the catalysts that led me to this profession.
As a clinical professional I implore you to read as much about complicated grief as you can. Learn some of the many ways it can take the form of. Do what you can to gain enough insight to better work with those that are experiencing complicated grief, be it due to estrangement with the person who had passed away, the manner in which the person died or whatever has clouded the loss.
Remember that if is ok for someone to both grieve the passing of someone and still damn the act that took them and possibly others. It’s ok to condemn the choice while loving the person that you had known.
As this nation of ours is likely waking up to yet another mass shooting (defined as any act or series of uninterrupted acts that results in 3 or more gunshot victims) and the nation once again damns the actions of those that did the killing, we must remember that the family and friends of the killers often had no idea that these acts were imminent. As the community rallies around the fallen victims and survivors, as they should, those associated with the perpetrator are often discouraged from grieving and at times outright mocked or otherwise attacked. They often grieve alone. They often suffer in silence. Let us do what we can do to assist them. God knows, they can use it.
Be safe, do good
"Doc Warren" Corson III is a counselor, educator, writer and the founder, developer, clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT Inc. (www.docwarren.org) and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.pillwillop.org). He is internationally certified as a Counsellor and Counsellor Supervisor in the USA and Canada (C.C.C., C.C.C.-S, NCC, ACS). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org