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article imageInterview: Living with the grief of murder-suicide Special

By Jane Fazackarley     Dec 9, 2010 in World
In 2008 there were 536 murder-suicides in the United States and in 2009 there were 733 murder-suicides. Ninety-two percent of these were carried out by men and majority of the victims were female, 200 of the victims were children.
The Community Awareness and Support Center(CAA) compiled these figures from a two-year survey of news reports, details of the survey can be found here.
The CAA was founded by survivors for survivors and part of their mission is to create awareness, locally, nationally and internationally, of the consequences for those left behind. They offer a free Grief Recovery Outreach program and CAA are the only organisation to have certified Grief Recovery Specialists in Oregon.
Tawna Righter is co-founder and president of the board of directors for Community Awareness and Support Center: Murder-Suicide and author of the new book “Living with the Unimaginable”, which has been written to help others to learn to live with the aftermath of a murder-suicide.
“Living with the Unimaginable” sets out to look at dealing with tragedy and grief of murder-suicide from the early days and, over time, finding a different way to live life. Tawna Righter speaks from experience. She told me her story:
"In November of 1990, I received a call that my best friend from high school and been brutally killed by her abusive husband before he took his own life, leaving three small children orphaned. I was in such shock; I didn't know what to do. I was living on a remote island in Alaska at the time and they were in the Midwest. I did the wrong thing and just withdrew from it; I couldn't attend their funerals or help with the kids. I felt helpless and at a loss as to what to do. Therefore, I did nothing really, I've always regretted that.”
“Then, In November of 1998, my own beloved 22-year old son, Michael, shot and killed his estranged girlfriend before shooting and killing himself in the backyard of his home in Fremont, Ca. They were both active duty Navy and assigned to the same squadron. We had never met her, but they were supposed to be getting married and then she broke it off for another guy in the same squadron. Mike seemed like he was doing alright with the breakup, even dating other girls, but something happened, we don't know what-and he snapped. I have searched many years and in many ways for another explanation, as I just could not accept that Mike could do this over a break up-but that was the ultimate conclusion as with many other murder-suicides. Many are triggered by divorces and restraining orders.”
“To say that this event took me to the absolute brink of myself would be an understatement. All I wanted to do was die too for awhile. Then, I started trying to find information on other murder-suicides, I guess I didn't want to feel like I was the only one this happened to. That led to finding an online support group and doing more research which led me to the conclusion that there were a lot more survivors out there who were just as lost as I was as to how to cope and live with this traumatic grief and the tragedy of the murder-suicide. Later, after some growth and gaining of knowledge, my daughter and I started a non-profit organization to provide aftercare support, spreading awareness and through that hopefully some prevention as well. It is the Community Awareness and Support Center; I had it in my mind to write a book on living with murder-suicide for many years as well. Again, I had to gain more knowledge, talk to more survivors and so on before I could complete it. I wanted to write something that would make other survivors not feel alone either and something that would hopefully help them with their everyday struggle to survivor, live with it, and hopefully find their new normal. I call it a new normal because life is never the same again and you are not the same as a survivor, you will never be that same person again as you were before it happened. It can change you at your very core and existence. To lose a child is difficult enough, but to lose one in this way is the unimaginable. It took everything from me and I had to find life and what would be my new normal or die.”
“I chose to live and to do whatever I could for other survivors who are living with the realities of the unimaginable.”
I asked Tawna about the support available to survivors and she told me:
“There is still little to nothing. There is our organization and 2 online support groups and it is being included more with the AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Foundation). They include something on murder-suicide in their conferences. There are no in person support groups. My book is the first to address this subject."
The AFSP offers funding for scientific research, suicide prevention projects, educational resources and other was of support. More about their work can be found here.
And I asked how anyone even begins to comes to terms with something like this. Tawna told me:
“That question is the million dollar question! How does one even begin to come to terms with such seemingly senseless horrific actions? We cannot pretend it didn't happen, we cannot just carry on as though it didn't happen, it is too big of a tragedy and a blow to one's life. It is almost always completely unexpected and out of the blue by someone you would least expect.”
“For me and many others, it begins with trying to find answers as to how and why this tragedy occurred. We do our own investigations of sorts. “
“Others have some idea why it happened, perhaps from previous suicide attempts etc. and they often start by memorializing their loved one and trying to make apologies to the other victim's family and friends. They often feel a great sense of guilt, we all do to some degree.”
“One way or the other, it seems to primarily start with trying to gain some kind of understanding, which ultimately allows for a level of acceptance. Acceptance of the act, of the intention, and of the loss, generally has to be attained in order to begin to live with it.”
Tawna also told me:
"Once the shock begins to wear off, we must grieve all that has been lost; our loved one, the person(s) they killed, trust, all hope, any sense of normalcy, and even a complete loss of ourselves. These types of losses often take a survivor to the very brink of themselves and that is where survival truly comes in. It is the unimaginable, and learning to live with it is quite a challenge. It usually requires finding one's new normal, because most of what was is now gone too. Many lose their jobs, homes and more too, because they cannot function well enough to work and stay focused. Not all employers have an understanding of the difficulties faced by these survivors.”
“The destruction of lives isn't limited to those who died, it explodes through the families and friends as well, destroying most anything that seemed normal and real and true in their lives and they have to fight hard to get it back.”
And finally, Tawna said:
“I chose to do what I could about it; talking with other survivors, starting the nonprofit for survivors, and ultimately writing this book. This book is written primarily for a survivor from a survivor, but it is also meant to inform others and spread an awareness of murder-suicide in America today, and what a survivor must live with.”
Tawna is also an expert researcher, speaker and writer on the subject of murder-suicide. The book is available through Amazon and other outlets. More about the work of CAA can be found here.
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