Lately when I hear of a tragic event on the news such as the one that happened a few weeks back right here in the community where I live - where an older couple went missing after placing an ad on Craig's List to buy a classic car. They were found murdered and their car in the bottom of a pond. The husband, a Vietnam Veteran, active in his church and regularly serving his community. They were loving parents and grandparents and both physically and financially supported a local homeless shelter.
I, of course, like the rest of the TV- viewing public following that news story --was devastated at the horror of their tragic deaths. I felt pity and sympathy and compassion for the couple's daughters and grandchildren and appalled and disgusted at the horror that the accused man could do such a thing to another human being and crushed by the loss of such pillars of the community.
However, I noticed something different in myself as of late, I am also now seeing another side of the story. A side that leaves me also sympathetic to the families of the "accused". Of course I am thinking of and praying for the victim's family as always but prior to our "now" sadly, I have to admit that I have never given much sympathy or compassion to the families of the accused. Why not?
I am ashamed to say that until I became one of them I really never gave them much thought.
I have done just like everyone else and shoved them under the rug of indignation and lumped them right into the same category as the accused or never thought of them at all. But this time I as heard the accused man's father on TV say that "he had to have been set up, this was just not him. He could never have done anything like this..." I suddenly felt very sad for them and very ashamed at my previous lack of compassion. I now knew what it was like to be in their shoes. I remember saying very close to those same words about my child. I recall the trauma and shock and debilitating disbelief at first and then later, the dark depression, personal devastation, shame and deep anguish of being treated as if we had no right to even love our family member.
Why was it so difficult for people to see that we too had lost a family member? I recall wanting desperately to defend him and who he was at his core and who he had been for the previous 41 years. I wanted to cry openly to friends, church members and co-workers telling them of my tragic loss but quickly realized they extended no sympathy to him and little to none for anyone connected to him. They didn't want to hear what a great dad he was or how much we all loved him. We either got looks of blatant disgust or they just quickly changed the subject or backed away from us the first opportunity they got and then avoided us like the plague.
At first I was oblivious to it but over the next few weeks, I came to realize they saw him only as a monster and they only saw us only as an extension of him.
I was a mother. I had lost my youngest son, my daughter-in-law and my two year old grandchild.
Under any circumstances that was a horrific tragedy and unfathomable loss.
For weeks I did not even made the connection that no one else even acknowledged that we too, were crushed by the loss of our son, brother, nephew and dad; that we were also victims of this horrific event; that my son was loved and missed by our entire family or that I was still his mother and devastated by the loss of my child.
We were treated differently by law enforcement. We were treated with animosity and disrespect by the coroner in charge. We were treated with anger and disgust by the various people in businesses that we had to deal with after their death whether attempting to take care of his business, get his bills paid or get his utilities turned off.
It was a side of this I wish I had never had cause to know but it is a side of it that has opened my eyes. Though I am certain I would never have treated the accused's family with any animosity - I admit I would not have thought of them with the same level of sympathy and or empathy that I would have the victim's family. So I have been just as guilty of the same judgmental insensitivity.
I now look at the accused's family with a whole new level of empathy. And in some ways maybe because I now walk in their shoes, even more compassion simply because I know there are so many more levels of grief for them. And because I now know that no one understands their loss or their love. I now know the shame, stigma and the personal devastation they face along with that loss and yet and they have done nothing to deserve this either.
It has been a soul-bearing; moment of truth; eye-opening lesson in love and human compassion.
We've all said it but do we believe it? "There, but for the grace of God - go I."