It may have been a knock on the door or a voice on the phone when life you had known it to be was turned upside-down, forever changed, the moment of notification that your loved one had been murdered. Suddenly and without expectation the unimaginable - so horrific that you cannot begin to comprehend or visualize in your worst nightmare has happened, a loved one's life has been taken, ended by a cold and callous act: murder. Now, through no fault of your own you have become a survivor of a murder victim.
Every day we either read or hear about persons who have survived some terrible event that has taken place. Webster's Dictionary defines surviving or survivors as being al-lowed to "remain alive or existent." However, there is another class of survivors, those surviving murdered loved ones. For these survivors while they remain alive and existent a new meaning of surviving is introduced - a survivor's existence.
July 24 marked the 17th anniversary date of our son Tom's murder, and I want to share and educate the public what life is like for survivors of murdered loved ones. I want to make it clear that what I am writing is my view and perspective as a father of a murdered son and is in no way meant to minimize the feelings of others who have survived loved ones who died for other reasons than homicide. Instead, I want to describe life after surviving a murdered loved one and how it differs from other kinds of tragic losses.
A surreal chain of events takes place after you have been notified your loved one has been murdered;
Devastation and shock as you are barely able to function. But you must now contact the coroner, begin to make unplanned funeral arrangements, notify family members and friends.
Your murdered loved one now becomes a statistic of crime and loses all constitutional rights afforded them because they are dead. Their voice has been forever silenced. They are now represented by the people of the state where they were murdered. You, as the survivor, have little if any rights in influencing the outcome of the investigation, the criminal proceedings and the trial if the authorities arrest the person or persons responsible for the murder and they are convicted.
If the state offers a plea bargain, you may be consulted by the prosecutor or district attorney about such an offer, but whether you approve or not one can still be given.
After the arrest and until the suspect is finally tried -which can be months or even years later - there will be countless court proceedings conducted disrupting your life as you are grieving. Many survivors actually lose their jobs because they are forced to miss too much work if they want to attend all those proceedings as the voice of their murdered loved one.
As your emotional journey continues you may note that many of your friends and even family members will distance themselves from you. Comments such as "you have to get over it, get on with your life" are made. They may mean well but those remarks are insensitive, usually made by those who have never suffered the murder and loss of a loved one (thankfully.)
What they don't understand is you are getting on with your life, dealing with circumstances so complex your attempts at healing and grieving are on hold and totally out of your control.
Finally, if the person who murdered your loved one is proved guilty, convicted and sentenced for the murder, the appeals process begins. Survivors must now await the outcome with the fear the verdict and conviction may be overturned, allowing your loved one's murderer to be freed
Later there will be parole hearings. And if you attend them you can only hope you can convince the parole board not to parole the murderer and they not be given another chance that if paroled and allowed back into society they may murder again.
As I mentioned earlier, the life and existence of a survivor of a murdered loved one is unique and unlike any other. The grieving process is delayed, put on hold indefinitely, or the pain is brought to the foreground again years later at parole hearings. Such confrontations with your loved one's murderer makes closure impossible.
Finally, I write this article in memory of my loving son Tom and hope that the public is made aware of the true plight of murder victim survivors everywhere.
Ralph Myers lives in Bellingham. His son Tom was murdered in Southern California in 1993. In the years since, Ralph Myers has been a leader in organizations such as Parents of Murdered Children and other Survivors of Homicide Victims and Justice for Homicide Victims.