I've become a big fan of this writer through her other postings, but thought this one fairly profound:
Hello. My name is Amber Weinacht. My uncle, Ron Weinacht, was murdered August 16, 2009. Although his murder and the events surrounding it are still fresh in my mind and painful, I have something I would like to say regarding this horrible loss that our family has suffered...and it is my hope that by spreading this message, I can create awareness regarding what secondary victims of murder go through.
First of all, please realize that there are virtually no resources out there to help someone who has suffered this kind of loss. Sure, you can go talk to counselors or psychologists, but no one understands unless they have been through it. So, telling your friend or your loved one, after they have suffered this kind of loss, that you are there to help them in any way they need is the best thing you can do for that person.
What we need is support. I received ONE condolence card after my uncle's murder, and that was from the program chair at my school. Not one of my friends sent me anything, very few said a word about it or offered support even though they knew, and no one offered to do anything for our family to help us out in any way so that we could grieve for the one that we lost. I don't know if people are afraid to say something, or if it makes them uncomfortable...but it is not about them...and their being uncomfortable is nothing compared to what secondary victims of homicide go through.
Recognize your friend or loved one's grief! It will not make them uncomfortable at all...in fact, they are dying for it inside but will never tell you. Listen to them when they talk. Some of my best friends never picked up the phone to call me and say "Hey, are you doing ok? I'm here to listen if you need me."
Second of all, do not expect us to get back to life right away. Dealing with someone you know being murdered changes you forever, and that is part of the struggle I think, in trying to come to terms with situations like this. All innocence is lost, even if all that remained before the homicide was just a little or close to none at all, and that innocence will never be regained. It is truly lost forever and life will never be the same.
A counselor told me that it is widely accepted and known through the medical community with counselors and psychologists and such, that it may take up to a year to become fully functional again, and that this is completely normal. Don't tell someone that they are using the murder as an excuse not to function, regardless of what their life was like before, because after losing a loved one to murder, all of their previous problems are compounded by the horrific events that they have gone through. To even suggest this to someone is heartless...and cold.
Something else I have heard from others, is, "Pick your chin up. I've never seen you act like this. You always weather every bad storm you've ever been through." What I want to tell them is that I'm not sure in some ways that the somewhat unnatural death of my own child even compares to the shock of losing a family member to homicide, but I don't. Please be patient with secondary victims of homicide, and watch out for destructive behavior.
Traumatic loss can lead some people into depression, alcohol or drug abuse. Help us find creative diversions. Be there after the first wave is over...because we ride many. Offer help 3 months, or 6 months, or even a year down the road. Remember, the murder for us is only the beginning.
We still have the trial to go through in which we will have to see the face(s) of evil that took our loved one, the sentencing, dealing with media and so many other factors that I probably don't even comprehend yet because for our family, it has only begun.
What most people don't consider are the nightmares we suffer at night...or the fact that normal noises scare the hell out of us...or that every time we watch the news and hear about someone being caught for murder, we get our hopes up only to be crushed when we realize it's got nothing to with our case...or the fact that we live in constant fear for the rest of our family now.
They still have not found the killer(s) in our case. I now sleep with the biggest butcher knife you could imagine above my head on the window sill, for fear that someone will kick down my door too and try to hurt my family. I will be getting a gun soon because I know a little knife is not going to protect us. How odd, to want something so desperately that snuffed out the life of my loved one! I can't even sleep with my window open, because a car door shutting in the parking lot below my window at night makes me bolt straight up out of bed. While I am sleeping, it echoes in my ear like a gunshot. I can't wait for 4th of July to roll around. That should be really interesting. I don't think I'll get much sleep that night.
Another thing to consider is that it does not matter how close secondary victims were to their loved ones or friends that were lost, and that plays no part in the sorrow that we endure day in and day out. I can tell you that in my case, that my uncle, was my favorite uncle when I was little. One Christmas, while very poor, he showed up at a family get together with a huge bag of dolls for my sister and I.
Even as little as I was, maybe 8 years old or so, I knew that he could not afford all those dolls, and that they were probably "secondhand" (and they were) but I realized the importance of his actions, and the selflessness, and the amount of love he had in his heart for me (and all others) then. He had no doubt gone to great lengths to get those dollies! Over the years he separated from the family, and when his murder occurred, I had probably not seen him in a year or so, and right before that I was at the point of seeking out family that has been lost through one family argument or another with other family members, or just life in general.
I had found other members of my family and had reconnected again and seeking out Uncle Ron was next on my list. I wanted to go to his home, and tell him that he was loved, unconditionally by me, and that I remembered those dollies and knew what kind of a person he was inside, but I never got the chance. How traumatic it is to lose those we love and deeply care for especially when we never get the chance to say goodbye...when we lose them in such a traumatic manner!
What has surprised me during this whole process is that through working with Murder Victims' Families For Reconciliation and attending a workshop that they had in conjunction with Nebraskans Against the Death Penalty, is that I came to the realization that I do not wish the death penalty on my uncle Ron's murderers or anyone else who kills. Regardless of what they did to him, why would I want their innocent family to suffer the same fate that ours has in the murder of their loved one through capital punishment?
I was standing in front of the workshop debating in a pretend session with a "legislator". The point of the practice discussion was to gain insight into ways to effectively talk to people and tell our story. I was supposed to convince the "legislator" of why they should not push through for the death penalty to be held in state law. While repeating to the "legislator" that I did not want the families of murderers to suffer like mine had, because they, the family are innocent, I broke down in tears as I realized the impact of my statement. I have always been for the death penalty and only through the loss of my uncle through homicide, have
I come to realize what it really means to murder someone through capital punishment. I can see all aspects of it now, and there is no more gray line for me. The cycle of violence indeed goes full circle and it has got to be stopped somewhere. Besides, I would rather have my uncle's killers in prison everyday, remembering their freedom, in turn leading them to remember what got them there in the first place, in turn taking them back in memory to remember my uncle and his face and what they did to him...and I wish the same for all other murderers as well.
I hope that what I have said, can open up discussion for others, raise awareness or bring about questions, and prepare readers for the fact that someday, inevitably, they will probably either directly or indirectly come into contact with a secondary victim of homicide. Do not be afraid to use your voice to tell them how sorry you are for their loss, or to give them a hug or to ask them if there is anything you can do for them.
It is in life's times of greatest sorrow that we realize who our true friends are. Do not forget them and help them to remember their loved ones that they have lost! Something I have considered, which I will do for anyone else now that I meet in that has recently become a victim, is to give them a candle to light. A candle to represent their loved one, and the light that their life brought to this world. A candle that they can watch burn for as long as they want. Something small just to commemorate their loved one. Please do not forget the secondary victims of murder and those who were lost through homicide or the death penalty.
A really powerful essay.