Traumatic Grief and Anger – Lew Cox

HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
Traumatic Grief and Anger
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Lew Cox
March 23, 2006

G: Hello. I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley, with my co-host Dr. Heidi Horsley. We?ve been on the air for almost a year now and have added a new and exciting dimension to the program. My daughter, Dr. Heidi Horsley, has graciously accepted co-hosting Healing the Grieving Heart with me. Heidi is a bereaved sibling and has had two losses due to miscarriage. In addition to teaching intervention for grief and loss and bereavement at Columbia University, she has worked in a number of clinical settings. Heidi is currently a co-investigator for Columbia University where she conducts evaluations and interventions to facilitate coping of spouses and children of firefighters killed in the World Trade Center disaster. Heidi, welcome to the show and welcome to our guest. We?re going to introduce him in a few minutes. He?ll be kind of our secret guest back there. But, Heidi, welcome. I wanted to start the show today by reading an email that I received. Just a warning to our audience. It?s a bit of a negative email but I want you to know one of the reasons I?m reading it is because I know other people have probably had the same response. I love getting emails, negative, positive, whatever you want to comment about the show because it does keep us on our toes and we love to know you?re out there and care. Our email is from Howard and Howard says:
Dear Gloria and Heidi:
I have a lot of respect for you both and for your show, but since you are allied with The Compassionate Friends, I must offer a bit of constructive criticism. Please don?t make a contest of grief comparing your own situation to others. On your March 16 show, you said my family is doing great. I?ve got three daughters and they?re all doing great and I?ve got grandkids. As a father who?s lost his only child and with it the dream of having grandchildren, this sort of gushing is hard to take. I wish I had other children and I wished that I?d had the prospect of grandchildren, but the possibility of that is looking remote. Please be a little more compassionate with your listeners. Great job otherwise.
Wow, Heid.
H: Well, Howard, I just want to say how sorry I am and I want to validate and acknowledge your loss, and I think it is really hard to lose your only child and not to have any surviving children even though I don?t think having surviving children replaces the person we?ve lost.
G: Yeah, absolutely.
H: But it?s still hard because you?ve lost some of your identity. I think your identity as a parent in some ways.
G: Well, I wanted to say to you, Howard, we are somewhat sensitive to this. I?m sorry we got gushy. I guess sometimes the message is we made it and so can you and sometimes I guess I get a little overly enthusiastic about that message. But I know you?re making it, and I know people are struggling out there right now to make it, and I wanted to say also, Howard, that if you listen to our August 4 show with Joyce Harvey, Joyce Harvey is also a person who has no other children. It?s a great show and she does talk about that loss. It would be a great one to listen to. And then we have Carl McDonald coming on. Carl is a highway patrolman who is going to work for MADD. His only child was killed in an automobile accident, a drunk driving accident, and then Rick Yotti, who is head of our board and will be on our show and he has had two children die of an illness. Rick has no other children either. So we are sensitive to this and we thank you so much for your email and for listening to our show. We really appreciate it and for all of you who are out there.
H: Right, and I was just going to add to what Gloria was saying and say that, like she has said, we?ve met so many amazing people at Compassionate Friends and met the people that she just said that have reinvested their energy in other directions to make a difference when they have had no surviving children, and they?re an inspiration to me. So I agree with Gloria. Thank you very much for emailing us.
G: Yes and please email us through our website at www.healingthegrievingheart.org. We love your comments and we love to hear from you. And Heidi and I, both being therapists, any advice we can shoot your way, too, we?re happy to do that. I just wanted to say this show today is pre-recorded so you won?t be able to call in but you can email us through www.healingthegrievingheart.org and remember these shows are archived 24/7 so you can listen to them any time you want to and we?re also really happy to tell you now that you can pod cast them. You can download them from I-tunes. So please do that and it?s a free download. Well, Heidi, I notice that our guest today, like you, volunteered with those impacted by the 9/11 World Trade Center disaster. Would you like to introduce our guest?
H: Sure, I?d love to, thanks. Our topic today is Traumatic Grief and Anger, and our guest, Lew Cox, is the founder and director of Violent Crime Victim Services in Tacoma, Washington. Lew has extensive experience as a homicide victim advocate, peer court companion, and as a support group facilitator. He is a chaplain with the Des Moines, Washington, Police Department and in this capacity has endured the homicide of one of the officers. Lew is trained in critical incident stress debriefing and management. He was part of a five-man chaplain team that worked at Ground Zero after the World Trade Center attacks. He is a survivor of the murder of his twenty-two-year-old daughter, Carmen, in 1987. He is also the co-author, along with Bob Baugher, of the book Coping with Traumatic Grief: Homicide. Welcome to the show, Lew.
L: Well, thank you for having me on this morning.
H: We?re so glad you?re here. You?ve really been through a lot. Could you tell us something about the death of your daughter, Carmen?
L: Well, like so many of us who have had an unexpected death, a violent death, sudden, the impact is like being hit with a wrecking ball. I found that there was no other pain I?d ever experienced in my life as when I got the news that my daughter had been murdered. At that particular time, I realized that I?d been on both sides of the fence. I?ve always picked up the newspaper or watched the news and have commented when there?s been a murder in our community and what a tragedy that would be to have that happen, but I turn the channel or turn that newspaper page and go on, but at that moment, I became the headlines in the news, and it was something that is hard to describe unless you?ve experienced it.
G: How long ago was that, Lew?
L: That was in August of 1987 so that?s 18-1/2 years ago.
G: What were you doing then at that time? Were you a chaplain? Victim?s advocate?
L: Actually I was doing missionary work in the Philippines. I was on my way back from my six-week trip and doing crusades over there. The day that my daughter was murdered, my airplane actually broke down in Manila and they put us up in a Manila hotel so I had not contacted anybody back home. They knew I?d be back in a general time and so there wasn?t a specific date so I hadn?t contacted anybody so I did not get the news of my daughter?s murder until I got off the airplane and went to my office. I?m really glad that I did not have that news while I was in the Philippines. To have to have that kind of trauma experience on a 14, 15-hour flight back from there would be horrible.
H: What were the circumstances around her murder?
L: She was actually murdered in Hollywood, California. She had moved down there and she had only been down there about three months and she didn?t like California so she was coming back. But there was somebody that she?d gone out with a few times and she went out with him the night before she was coming back and this person wanted her to be his steady girlfriend or to be engaged because he was from Indonesia and he was a college graduate from Gonzaga University with an engineering degree but could not get a job because he didn?t have a green card. So this was the pressure that he put on her and she denied him and when she did, he pulled out a gun and shot her six times. Shot her twice in the chest and four times in the back. He was captured, convicted, and he?s still in prison in California.
G: I know you?ve become a victim?s advocate. Do you have an advocate go with you? Does he come up for parole?
L: Actually, he came up for parole a year ago last October so it was 2004. He came up for parole and I was at the parole hearing. And so he also comes in front of the parole board again this October so I will be back down there to meet with his parole board. In his psychological evaluation, he was determined a sociopath and that the issues that he has with women, there?s no doubt in my mind that if he ever gets out, if something goes wrong with a relationship, he?ll do the same thing again, and we don?t want another family to experience what our family experienced over the last 18-1/2 years. If he ever is released ? he got a life sentence, but he still comes in front of the parole board ? if they ever release him, he will be deported, but that?s not our issue because we don?t want anybody in any country to have to go through what we?ve gone through because of his dastardly deeds.
G: So what have you done with this over the years? Early on, how did you feel, and how has this impacted your life? How has it moved you through?
L: Well, when you?re hit with this kind of emotion, we were talking earlier about the man who called in and only had one child and that child was, I?m not sure how he died, but I have four children and so each one of us and our family, my wife who died a couple months after my daughter was murdered, she died of a brain tumor, so each one of us.
G: Lew, it?s time for us to take a break right now. When we come back, let?s pick up on this thought again about how you?ve dealt with this over the years and now you?ve also told us you had a wife who died right after so, incredible. How did you deal with all this? What do you suggest for our audience out there who are in the throes of suffering the loss of a child right now and that early grief?
L: Well, when this happened, my life changed 180 degrees and being involved in missionary work, that?s where my heart was. My wife and I were in the process of moving to the Philippines as full-time missionaries over there when she developed a brain tumor and that prevented that, but my aspirations were still to be able to do that, but when my daughter was murdered, that all changed because I knew the pain that I was experiencing that nobody understands it unless they?ve experienced it.
G: That loss of a child.
L: A violent loss of a child.
H: I would imagine the pain is wrapped up with anger as well, right?
L: Well, yes it is. Anger is part of the grief process. As human beings, we all experience anger. None are exempt from it. Yeah, I was angry. Let me digress a moment. People asked me well, what do you think about the person that murdered your daughter? I said, I give that person no thoughts, no credence, because I?m in so much pain right now over her loss that I can?t give any thought to who this person is or what they have done. But what I realize is that only those of us who have experienced this type of trauma can actually identify with somebody else that has had it. Prior to that, I couldn?t identify with anybody who had that type of trauma but now I could. And so my prayer was Lord, just use me. So as time went on, I also realized that our family was being re-victimized by the criminal justice system. The police in Los Angeles did a wonderful job. It took two weeks to capture the person through an outstanding investigation and they did a wonderful job. But when it got into the system, we got kind of left on the sidelines and in a year and a half, there were three prosecutors that were assigned to the case. People would be assigned to a different department and they?d bring somebody else on so I?d have to develop a relationship with that person and on and on. Then I realized I?m being victimized by this, other people are. I also noticed that as part of the clergy that the church at large was pretty much inept at dealing with people in crisis, and so I went to our senior pastor and told him that I wanted to develop a support group, and here?s the reasons why. They gave me permission to set it up and for the next four years I did that at our church and it developed into a large support even outside the church.
G: Now what about people who are out there right now who need what you?ve got or what would you suggest to them?
L: I channeled my anger and my energy into doing something positive. I realized that I was being victimized by the system. I didn?t want others to and so I was bound and determined to develop a system or organization where I can provide services to families. But I had to learn about the system myself.
G: You had to develop the system. How long did it take you before you could really move in that direction? What were you like months into it because for some of those folks out there who are only months into it? It?s hard to remember. It?s back.
L: Not really. I can recall about nine months after Carmen was murdered, I woke up one morning and a reality set in that she?s not coming back because we go through a severe sense of denial because this thing is such a horrific event in our life that how could this really happen to us and so we go through this sense of denial that they?re going to call us or they?re going to walk through the door and all this, but nine months later, the reality set in.
G: Did you have any guilt about being out of the country or anything?
L: We all that are inflicted with this type of trauma have a sense of guilt. I did. I thought well, if I?d been a better father, maybe this. If I?d done this, maybe then that. I didn?t have the guilt that I was out of the country because we talked the night before I left for that trip and she wanted us to come down to California for Thanksgiving because she was going to cook us Thanksgiving dinner; however, she became disenchanted with the area and she wanted to move back to take care of her grandfolks who were dying of cancer, but we all have a sense of guilt. You?re talking to a father that has cried buckets of tears just like a spring just breaking. I never knew a person could cry as much as I did at that particular time.
G: Yeah, when they say men don?t cry, well.
L: When I talk to men and dealing with men and this type of traumatic grief, is that I let them know you?re looking at a guy who?s cried a lot.
H: Lew, I wanted to go back to something you said earlier about the denial and grief. I think that?s common across the board. When you lose a sibling or a child, you can?t believe it happened no matter what the cause is. You can?t believe somebody can die before their time. This is not supposed to happen. You are in disbelief and I think you do protect yourself by being in denial. I could not believe my brother died at 17 years old in the prime of his life, healthy. These kind of things aren?t supposed to happen to us. There?s supposed to be an order in life. So I think that?s pretty common. And the guilt, I think, is common as well. Survival guilt and how could this happen and what could I have done differently. I find in talking to bereaved siblings, survivor guilt is very common and thinking what could we have done to prevent it even though oftentimes there?s nothing.
L: No there isn?t. We can?t shadow people. We can?t protect them. We can?t put an umbrella around them. When my kids were small and we were all living in this nice home out in the north end of Tacoma, Washington, when everything was just grandioso, and the thought runs across every parent. What would I do if something happened to one of my kids? That?s a thought we all have in just passing, but then it happened to me and it?s happened to hundreds of others that I have worked with over the last 17, 18 years and the impact is devastating and life changing and also realize, Heidi, that some people never get over it.
G: Talk about that a little bit.
L: Well, we were talking about anger. I have noticed over the years that those who have a very difficult time in getting over it and getting on top of it and let them control their emotions instead of the emotions controlling them, they?re going to control us for a long time, but there?s a time when you get across a threshold where you start controlling your emotions. I found that those who did not have a good relationship or had a strange relationship with the decedent, they have a more severe level of guilt and anger and I?ve seen with some people it even develops into hatred.
H: Which can cause health problems and wreak havoc on your life.
L: I?ve literally seen people die from hatred. It just erodes away their life, their health, their emotional health. These are the people that complain more and challenge the system, the investigation, the criminal justice system, the courts. It?s constantly challenging them to be perfect in all of their dealings and we don?t have a perfect system. They do err. There are mistakes made and when they do they just jump on that like a vengeance.
G: What would you suggest if somebody?s got this person in their life, maybe a spouse who is feeling that way or if they are, what do you do if you had a bad relationship with the person, what do you think you do with that? What do you recommend to people?
L: Well, what I do, is first of all you?ve got to get long-term counseling. Our support group we have is good but we don?t deal with these types of issues. These are real personal issues and you need some long-term counseling.
G: Let?s go to break now and when we get back from break, let?s talk more about anger and dealing with anger or having a difficult relationship with the person before they died. I heard you speak at the international grief gathering and you said something that I think is incredibly profound about being at the dinner table with an extra guest.
L: Oh, yes. Well, when something like this happens in our life, somebody is murdered, that perpetrator, he or she, they set a plate at your table that never goes away. It will always be set there because they took the person that you loved away from you and they have replaced themselves at your table with their plate. What I tell people is that that plate is always going to be there. It can never go away. It?s going to be with us for the rest of our lives. This incident will never go away. Even though we can get on and have life meaning again, I suggest people don?t feed it. Don?t put food on that plate. It?s there but don?t put food on it. Don?t feed it. Because if you do, that?s when you?re going to develop health problems. You?re going to be preoccupied with that person. That person may be dead. That person may be in prison and they don?t care how you feel or how you are destroying your life if you are.
G: You?re not going to get redemption. That?s a word I hear people say that they want. They want this person to
L: They want this person to feel pain and suffering as they are. And for the most part, they most likely can care less about how you feel or what. This person?s been captured, they?re going to prison, all they do is care about themselves so people have this idea that if I send all of the impact statements to that person and they have to read them. I send a picture and they have to have the picture of my loved one on the wall that this is going to have some pain and suffering in their life, and it doesn?t. But what I have seen out of the hundreds of people that I work with only a handful or more have really developed the root of bitterness where it has for all intents and purposes destroyed their life.
G: So one of the things I?m thinking of when you say only a few continue that bitterness, it?s not unusual or unhealthy early on to have some bitterness, right? And anger?
L: Anger.
G: So you see the difference. Anger is early and bitterness carries on.
L: Yeah. My evaluation of people that develop that bitterness, that hatred, and like I said, it?s only been a handful. Most people, you?re angry, they?re real angry, they could be severely angry, but you know that would dissipate in time.
G: And what do you suggest to people who are feeling really angry right now?
L: One thing is they?ve got to deal with their guilt and that the relationship is estranged. You?ve got to be able to forgive yourself because as a parent we all make mistakes and we?re always looking in retrospect that we probably could have done a better job. And I tell you, you may have been able to do a better job, you did the best that you could under the time and the circumstances and you have to forgive yourself.
G: That?s such a great one again. You did the best you could at the time with what you had even if you had a bad relationship with them, there?s some reason and you did the best and it?s over.
L: I want to tell you, see that happened in my family. My daughter was 22, my son was 23, Carmen was 22, and then I had two other daughters, one was 17 and 16. The 17 year old had a tiff with Carmen a couple nights before she was murdered and this daughter, her name?s Laura, she still has not dealt with this. She?s had health problems. She?s had stomach problems. She?s had gall bladder problems. She?s had other physical problems and even today when we bring Carmen?s name up into a conversation ? it doesn?t happen often because she?s past tense and that?s just the nature of the recovery for us. They don?t come into the conversation much. But when it happens, you just feel the air get thick with her. I?ve talked to my other daughter about that, too, and she says yeah, she really hasn?t dealt with it, and because they had that tiff, and so I have not over the years, I have really never been able to sit down philosophically with her and talk about this, to forgive yourself, she won?t do it. My other daughter has come to the support group periodically and is involved with our candlelight vigil that we have every year during victim?s rights week but I can?t get the other one. We did have a fundraiser luncheon in September and she did come to that and I think she had a great time there. That could have been somewhat of a breakthrough for her.
G: So, really, if you?re out there and you hear what Lew is saying, even with everything he knows and everything he does, you can?t control other people.
L: Well, some people, like I said, will develop this bitterness and hatred and, you know what, they don?t care. They don?t care about their own family. They don?t care about the system. They don?t care who they offend, what they say, and so I have to cut that type of person loose from our support group because what they do is their talk can help pollute our support group.
H: I?m running an anger workshop in a few weeks and what if the anger is not at the person that died. You actually had a good relationship. It?s at the people that killed that person.
L: And you have to evaluate that as time goes by. Is that person affecting the group? Because you may have 20 people in the group and you have one person that is talking that is affecting the group and actually scares the group. I?m dealing with that right now myself in the situation with our group and so you have to address it because you can?t allow 19 other people to be offended by one person?s.
H: So the advice to the toxic person would be what? To turn your anger outward and go do something like you?ve done?
L: Yeah, you have to sit down and be able to maybe rationalize with him and see what their problem or issues are and what?s happening to them. They?re probably in denial that they have the anger but those have to be addressed and if they don?t see it, they?re not willing to change, then you have to ask them to leave the group and what I do is I tell them, you need to get some professional help and I can set you up with that.
G: Good, I was going to say that. Probably a one-to-one for a person like that is a better deal.
L: It is. And then let?s evaluate as time goes on if you do get into the counseling and how it goes and then to bring you back into a group at another time.
G: Well, we?re coming up on break again, and this is going to be our last break of the show today so please stay tuned for more. When we come back, Lew, I?d like to know if you feel there?s anything we?ve missed. Heidi had something she wanted to comment on from our last segment, and then one of the things I don?t want to miss, Lew, is talking to you about what happens when you are working and a person is killed in the police department. We mentioned that on the show so we might want to talk about that.
H: I wanted to address Lew?s comment about the ambivalent relationship his daughters had. I work with siblings a lot and it is so normal even in the best of sibling relationships to argue and fight and have ambivalence and there?s a continuum. Some relationships have more ambivalence than others and siblings have a lot of difficulty when their sibling dies because we?ve all had fights and arguments and I have a great poem that I read that resonates well with a lot of the siblings and I just wanted to share it with you. It says siblings may be ambivalent about the relationships in life but in death the power of their bond strangles the surviving heart. Death reminds us that we are part of the same river, the same flow, from the same source rushing toward the same destiny. Were you close? Yes, but we didn?t know it then. I just wanted to give that to your daughter.
L: Oh, I appreciate that, and I will pass that on to her for sure.
G: Maybe you can even get her to listen to the show. She can download another Ipod. So, Lew, is there something you feel that we?ve missed that you want to mention today?
L: Well, one of the things I want to leave us with is that people handle anger in definitely two ways. They?re going to repress their anger or they?re going to overly display their anger. What I have noticed is that those people who are quiet, repressed their thoughts, that?s going to be amplified. They?re going to be more repressive. They?re going to be more quiet. They?re going to be more introverted. Those who were overtly displaying their anger normally, that will amplify too, and both of them can be self-destructive.
G: So we grieve the way we live our lives.
L: We do, and then also in our family culture, if there?s several children or siblings, each one of them has a different personality. Each one of them will grieve in a different way and not grieve the same as the others. So we can?t expect people to grieve the way we grieve. We have to respect how they are. We don?t measure people?s grief level by their tears or lack of tears because people are pre-judging that if a person doesn?t have a lot of tears, were they going to love that person or that loved one.
G: I thought it was really interesting when you were saying how much you cried because we have the idea that men don?t cry or big men don?t cry. Lew, before we end the show, I wanted to make sure people knew what your website is and give us your information on you and how to get your book.
L: You can get the book through our website, too, or actually Dr. Baugher, he handles the sales of the books but you can contact us through our website and that is www.vcvs.org and people if they want to email me it?s lew@vcvs.org.
G: And you can also go through our www.healingthegrievingheart.org. Lew, I wanted to talk about the murder, the homicide of one of the officers in the police department. Heidi and I were talking about it earlier, weren?t we, Heid?
H: We were wondering what it?s like to work with the police department but then have a personal loss as well, which is the officer, as you?re working with the department.
L: I think what?s helped working with our officers, we?re a small department, about 45 officers, so consequently everybody in the department ? there were probably 60 altogether working for the department ? knew this young man and so they?re close as a smaller department. In bigger departments, it might be different. So the trickle-down effect to our department was just devastating and it still is. It has been five years this month and we have seen officers fired subsequently from them. The officer that ended up holding the dying officer in his arms, he has subsequently been fired. A good officer but his life just went spiraling down. The proper help wasn?t given to him and he was a person that we just could not catch up with. He was running so fast from everything in his destructive behaviors and lifestyle and I believe his marriage now, there?s a separation there. We?ve had other divorces. We?ve had guys quit. We?ve had guys just be angry at each other. It?s been a horrible time and five years later, we?re still trying to recover from it.
G: So what would you say to our folks out there that are in early grief with a homicide where strange things have happened like people holding people in their arms and it?s impacted other people around, what, hold steady if you can?
L: What people have to realize that are around them, whether it?s clergy, whether it?s counseling like in our department, administration, is that an experience that we had is that you have to get long-term help for this person, and it just can?t be short-term because when you have a police officer die in the arms of another police officer who has just been shot on the highway by SEATAC airport, this is going to have unreeling devastating results for that officer. Another officer on that particular team was on that night but wasn?t at the scene and he also has been subsequently fired for something he?s done. So whether it?s civilian or whether it?s law enforcement fire, first responders is that everybody is going to have to come in and embrace that person and they need to go and find out immediately. Go to the internet and type in whatever ? violent crime, murder, and stuff there?s so much on the internet. You can get information and resources.
G: And how about a victim?s advocate to help those folks out there?
L: Police officers aren?t keen on victim?s advocates but because I happen to be one and I?m the department chaplain, then I was accepted. But outside of the blue line, people are not going to be accepting.
G: Well, Lew, I think it?s time to close our show now, and I think Heid?s going to do that for us, right, Heid?
H: Sure, I?d love to close the show. I?d like to thank our guest, Lew Cox. It?s been great having you on the show, Lew. Please tune in again next week when our topic will be learning to live again after loss and our guest will be Alan Pedersen, award-winning songwriter. In August of 2001, Alan?s 18-year-old daughter Ashley was killed in an automobile accident. This painful event would change his life completely. Alan will play for us some of his beautiful music so you will not want to miss the show. This show is archived on our website www.healingthegrievingheart.org as well as www.compassionatefriends.org website.

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