Workshop Review: Day of Remembrance for Victims of Homicide Organised by AdVIC Limerick 12 September 2009.

Reviewed by Mary Callaghan (MIACP)

When I got a phone call from Noeleen Slattery-Lee asking me if I would like to go to Limerick for a commemoration day for people who lost their loved ones to homicide I felt honoured. I am in training with AdVIC (Advocates for Victims of Homicide) at the moment to work with such families and I felt this day will give me a flavour of what to expect in the future. Having a little difficulty trying to find the Church, I asked a Garda where was St, Saviour’s. “Are you coming to see the former President?” he asked “Yes” I replied, “and the families of people who have lost their loved ones through homicide” I feel from the vague look on his face, that this was news to him!  I snook into the side entrance of the Church as there was a large crowd outside the main entrance. There was a lot of activity in the altar area, and it was obvious that a lot of preparation had been put into this special ceremony.

An introduction was then given by Noeleen Slattery-Lee, who herself has lost her beloved daughter, Caroline to homicide.  There was the most amazing singing by a beautiful young girl, Catherine, who is from Dublin and the very well known Brian Kennedy their voices and the meaningful words would bring a tear to any eye. The prayers by the Catholic priest and the Protestant minister were words of comfort and solace to the congregation for whom this service was for i.e. these bereaved people who had lost their loved ones through homicide, I myself can only try and imagine their pain as luckily for me I haven’t encountered this kind of pain in my life I  was so aware of the pain all around me that day. I couldn’t help but notice a young couple with a little boy of about six crying and clutching onto each other, all during the ceremony. A beautiful young girl sitting beside me, clutching a photograph of herself and a gorgeous looking young man – a young couple holding a photograph of a little boy – a feeble little man clutching a photograph of a smiling young woman –  to name but a few of the people around me that day.

One of the guest speakers was former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, who delivered a heartfelt speech I will now quote her address to the congregation that day.

Dealing with the death of a loved one is always difficult and a sudden death, as most people know, can affect people emotionally, physically and practically but I am fortunate in that I can only imagine that losing a loved one to any form of homicide must be a shattering experience. I have never had that firsthand experience but you each have had it and it is to your credit that you have reached out in such a meaningful way to support each other by sharing your experience I commend all of you here today and all in AdVIC. What is particularly significant and commendable is that in your painful experience of loss you are striving to ensure that conditions will be as constructively supportive as possible for those who face a similar trauma in future. With your work you hope to ensure that a comprehensive and co-ordinated inter-agency support will be available to families who are victims of the loss of a loved one to homicide in the future. No one has the insights, the lived experience of coping which you have, so it is deeply impressive that you are prepared to share with others who will face a similar tragic loss in the future.

All homicides are tragic and affect many many families. This was brought home to us all in a recent homicide / suicide in Dublin which attracted a large measure of media interest. The impact of that interest undoubtedly brings its own pressures on ALL families involved and it is this statement that I think is very important – all families involved. In instances of homicide there are likely family victims on both sides – the victim and the perpetrator. I know the bereaved families are left with a dreadful void which can never be filled. But the families of perpetrators may also be victims – though perhaps with a different degree of loss.

I think this was recognised in a very profound way by Seb Crean’s Mother, Nuala, when she spoke at his funeral last month, and I quote;

“We live on earth in a world of contrasts—-big, small, hard, soft, good, bad, dark and light, but one can’t paint a picture without at least two shades. It is the dark which gives definition to the light. Darkness is just the lack of light. We are faced with a choice: do we continue to live in darkness, seeing only fear, anger, bitterness, resentment, blaming, bemoaning our loss, always looking backwards, blaming, blaming, blaming, or are we ready to transmute this negativity?”

This may seem a very difficult point to accept but transmuting negativity may help dull the void—I know it will never fill it but it should help. I think it is a point we should all consider painful though it may be. It is important that all families that are victims of loss to homicide experience a sense of fairness and balance in dealing with all state and local authorities in the aftermath of the tragedy. They need full, timely and accurate information about court procedures—including the coroner’s court. Where appropriate confidential information and counselling should be made available and follow – up contact after all procedures have been finalised may be desirable. Your work can only help this process.

In conclusion let me return to Nuala Crean and what she said at her eldest son’s funeral. It is a message for all who have been so grievously injured by the loss of a loved one to homicide. “Let the light that shone in your loved one, shine in you also, in its own special way. Let it shine and be at peace”

As those words washed over me that day, I couldn’t stop thinking of that brave mum, Nuala Crean who had lost her precious son only weeks earlier. I quietly wondered if it was me would I be so forgiving? I remembered how she spoke about the perpetrator and his loving family I thought of the pain they too must be so deeply feeling. Then three people spoke of what it was like for them, losing a loved one through homicide. Siobhan, mother, talked of the impact of her son, Gavin’s death through homicide – how it affected her as a person, how it impacted on the family and the affect it had on her, with her relationship with her family of origin. She spoke with such openness and honesty. The second man to speak, a French gentleman, had lost his niece and, as yet, nobody has been charged with her murder- he spoke of the impact of that on their family.  Lastly, a man who had lost his nephew, Shane, through homicide, spoke again with such openness and honesty of the pain inflicted on that family.

About five hundred names of people who have died by homicide were called out that day. Relatives of those people were then given the opportunity to go to the altar, with a candle and a photo of their loved one, and place them at the altar, in remembrance of their loved one. This symbolic gesture was given to all present. At the end of the ceremony, the families were asked to go to the back of the Church, and there they would be given flowers. They were then asked to bring the flowers to a Monument outside the Church, where a closing ceremony would take place. All attending were then invited to a nearby hotel for food, which was beautifully presented. As I sat down in a chair, I could see such pain, etched on the faces of those broken people I thanked God, for being spared such tragedy, and felt all I could do, was offer a prayer, to ask God, to love them and nurture them on this awful jagged grief journey of theirs.

What a SAD but yet SPECIAL day this was SAD, because their loved ones were gone but SPECIAL because their loved ones were being remembered in a most significant way.

Mary O’Callaghan IACP works in private practice in Naas, Co. Kildare