To lose someone through illness is a terrible state of affairs. If you have cared for that person your days and nights will have been spent practically all of the time at their bedside.You will have been with them throughout their most devastatingly sad moments and through those moments of laughter and lightheartedness. Their death brings with it often a sense of emptiness a hole that cannot be filled. Sometimes however it brings with it relief, relief that the pain and suffering has gone and also relief that you can now get your own life back on track. To some, this may seem selfish but it is in fact reality that life goes on after a loved one dies.
When we lose someone through murder or manslaughter however, the after effects are a little bit different. You don’t have the time to say goodbye or to plan the person’s death or know their wishes. This type of death is very sudden, quick, painful and can create all kinds of different emotions. Initially when someone is murdered the emotions are all over the place, you may feel anger and a sense of wanting revenge, to see the other person hurt for what they did to your loved ones. Guilt is another common emotion because you may feel there was more you could have done. If only I had been there, this may not have happened or if I hadn’t been so busy I may have noticed something was wrong. All of these emotions can be present when a loved one dies to murder or manslaughter but we must ask ourselves what is the purpose of revenge on the perpetrator? What benefit does that serve for us or our loved ones? Taking revenge on the perpetrator may feel like you finally got justice for your loved one, but they have gone they don’t know what you are doing and for you, does taking another persons life or hurting them really feel right? For example, how can taking another person’s life be the right type of punishment for taking a life? Doesn’t that make you the same kind of person? Additionally, if you are a person who already experienced feelings of guilt, could it then be possible that you may want to hurt the perpetrator as a way of offloading some of your own guilt about what has happened?
So what might drive a person to commit murder? Could you commit murder? What makes you different from the perpetrator? Some may believe it is due to karma and past situations that brought the person to this point in their life as a killer. Others may believe that it is a direct result of their upbringing and childhood. Some may even have the opinion that certain people are born evil with the inherent trait of being able to commit murder. Every person who experienced murder on manslaughter, will also experience a completely different set of emotions thoughts and feelings. This is because as humans we are all unique with very different thought patterns. There are a group of people however, who will go on to experience the symptoms of what is known as PTSD or post traumatic stress disorder as a direct result of what happened to them. PTSD is nothing more than the brains normal reaction to an abnormal situation, and it can occur when the brain has chosen to freeze the memory of what happened. Many of you will no doubt have heard about fight, flight and freeze? When we experience a traumatic event, our brain often needs time to process what has happened and it usually does one of these three things. It is quite normal to want revenge after our loved one has been killed, but the brain quite often does not allow us to go into fight mode why? Because deep down in our subconscious we understand there are repercussions for our actions. Most often after such an event, the brain will either go into flight or freeze.
Someone who experiences PTSD may have a whole range of symptoms or very few. Some people experience nightmares, waking up in the night thinking about what happened. Others however may go on to live their daily lives as normal and suddenly experience what is known as a flashback, a memory image of the events that happened. Every person who suffers from PTSD will experience very different symptoms why? because the brain reacts very differently in different people. The strange thing about PTSD, is that there is no indication about which group of people will suffer from it after an event of murder, manslaughter or indeed any other traumatic event or situation. Some people go on to experience PTSD and some don’t so for example, you may get two different people who witnessed the same traumatic event or incident yet one will develop symptoms of PTSD and the other will not. Although it is unclear who will go on to experience post traumatic stress disorder, it does seem to be the case that those who process certain emotions at the time of the events may be less likely than someone who goes into freeze mode straightaway. There are hundreds of different ways that someone will manage their emotions after an event so traumatic as murder or manslaughter, but what if they decide to simply forgive the perpetrator? Here I would like to reflect on my own personal situation. After losing my own partner to manslaughter, I chose to forgive the perpetrator not only for my own benefit, but also for his. It is not for me to say that people must forgive the perpetrator if a loved one has been murdered, however from my own personal experience taking this path did in fact help in a number of ways. By finding true heartfelt forgiveness, this in the first instance takes away any hate and anger a person may feel. This does not mean that you are saying what happened is okay or that what happened wasn’t wrong, it is simply finding a way to eradicate anger and the feeling of pain that often comes naturally after such an event. Some may describe this way of moving forward, as a way of taking back your power. For me personally it was never about power, it was about finding some kind of inner peace in such a traumatic situation and trying to find some kind of resolution to what has happened. Although some people may not share this view, anger hate and revenge serve absolutely no purpose whatsoever after a loved one has been murdered. The reason why there is no benefit, is because your loved one has gone they will not return to your life as it is now, no matter how much you feel that taking revenge will change the situation. This may sound very blunt but it is important to realise that your actions now will determine the rest of your life and what type of person you continue to be on your life’s journey. Taking the path of the forgiveness, from a personal perspective was in fact taking giant leaps forward. Whether or not you are a religious person doesn’t really matter when taking this decision because finding inner peace can be done by anybody even the most atheistic person. Of course it would be quite unrealistic to suggest that after your loved one has been killed, you will straightaway find forgiveness for the killer. Of course it will not happen this way, in my own personal circumstances I went through all the different stages of loss including anger, guilt that I could have done more, despair that I would never see my partner again, sadness that all our plans for the future were now gone and I faced life alone. We have to do consider however, what will happen to ours if we hold on to these emotions and feelings. Some evidence suggests, that holding onto anger can cause physical and mental health problems. Whether or not you believe this to be true, surely it makes sense to want to be free of these negative emotions which can cause no positive effects whatsoever. In my own situation, I chose to meet with the perpetrator and I did this through a channel known as restorative justice. Restorative justice programs are where the victim of crime and the perpetrator meet under strict supervision to discuss what has happened. This can be very useful as in my case, because there were questions I needed answering. For anyone who has experienced murder or manslaughter, you will also understand when I say you want to know every small minute detail because this is your loved one who has been taken. The perpetrator in most cases, is the only person in a position to answer those questions and for every person who has suffered in this way your questions will be very different. For me personally, because the perpetrator was the last person to see my partner alive, it was important for me to be able to speak with him and ask all the questions I needed answering. At the time of meeting the man who killed my partner, I had already forgiven him and so I was able to tell him this and speak with him on a humane level however, for many people restorative justice meetings or conferences may not serve this purpose and there may be a whole range of different reasons why you want to meet with this person. What is restorative justice? Restorative justice is an approach to justice that focuses on the needs of the victims and, as well as the involved community, instead of satisfying abstract legal principles or punishing the offender. Victims take an active role in the process, while offenders are encouraged to take responsibility for their actions, “to repair the harm they’ve done—by apologizing, returning stolen money, or community service”. Restorative justice involves both victim and offender and focuses on their personal needs. In addition, it provides help for the offender in order to avoid future offences. It is based on a theory of justice that considers crime and wrongdoing to be an offence against an individual or community, rather than the state. Restorative justice that fosters dialogue between victim and offender shows the highest rates of victim satisfaction and offender accountability. Restorative Justice Council Restorative justice.org.uk There are many different ways that we can choose to move forward after the sudden death of a loved one but what is clear, is that death does not always happen in old age. Here we have discussed murder and manslaughter which of course are very sudden modes of death. Let’s face it, nobody goes out and imagines they will be murdered on that particular day, it comes totally unexpected shaking the absolute foundations of families and bringing communities to their knees. We have no control over the circumstances when a loved one is murdered, but we do have absolute unshakable choice in how we move on with our lives after the event. Anger is a perfectly normal emotion after we lose a loved one especially in such traumatic events as murder or manslaughter. We are angry because somebody felt it was ok to take their life. There may also be anger at ourselves that we didn’t stop it from happening but what about death in other situations? What about death where someone may be terminally ill? It is often the case that the dying person becomes angry with life, angry with the disease that has taken over his body, and if he or she is religious, angry with God because he can’t save him. According to Elisabeth Kubler Ross Anger is one of the stages of DABDA, a theory of coping with dying. Kubler-Ross theorized that people often go through predictable stages when they are coping with inevitable death: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. Not everyone goes through every stage, and certainly not always in order, but most dying people will experience a stage of anger and resentment. Anger is a normal reaction to severe loss. A dying person stands to lose everything and everybody that is important to him. He feels robbed by his illness. If he believes in a higher power, he may blame his God for causing his illness or not curing it. He might even resent his family and friends for continuing to live their lives while he slowly loses his own. He may feel that the doctor isn’t being straight with him, his nurses don’t respond to his demands quickly enough, and that the world has already started to forget him. Anger is easily projected onto those around us, so it’s only natural if your loved one’s anger has befallen you. In the West, this theory on Death is quite valid and extremely recognisable, because so often the dying person will spend their final moments or hours in such turmoil and feeling such anger. The Buddhist approach to death however is very different, because as mentioned earlier in the book death is very well prepared for throughout life. It isn’t a taboo subject and it isn’t something that is seen as dark,evil and not to be spoken about. The Buddhist approach to death, is that it is simply a continuation of life. The consciousness simply leaves the body and enters a new one therefore there is nothing to be afraid of. The main focus of the Buddhist and indeed many Middle Eastern cultures, is actually living a good compassionate and useful life because when we move into our next life, how we lived in this one will be very important. The thing is, when we are having the discussion on death and dying, it doesn’t really matter whether you believe in a afterlife or not. What really matters or what should really matter, is living a good balanced and happy life in the here and now. It is important to put our affairs in order whilst we are here in a healthy physical body and mind. Equally important is that we do not live with a great sense of pride, and if we did wrong to apologise to put right any disputes between friends and family, because at the end of our life these are the things that will torment us in our last moments. By really taking account of our thoughts and deeds and actions in life, it opens up a whole new opportunity for us to experience a happy peaceful death. It’s perfectly true, that the death does not always embrace old age. Death can come at any time at any given moment and we may not necessarily be prepared. If you only take one small piece of information from this book, please let it be this. Always live in the here and now and do not assume that you will live to be old. Do not put off those things that you can do now until a later date or a more convenient time because this time may never come.