If there is one word to describe me, it would be “Mother.” When I hear “Mom” in a grocery store, I turn, ready for action. I want every one of all ages to be happy, healthy and well cared for. It is in my DNA.

My son, Christopher Robin Hotchkiss, was murdered by his roommate, Mark James Taylor, on March 21, 1996. Christopher was 21 years old. He was shot four times with a handgun because of an argument over where to put the dishes. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare to get this kind of news.

What hit me first, after the waves of shock and disbelief, was that Christopher’s chapter with our family was over. No more photos, no graduation. I wouldn’t see him get married, wouldn’t be a grandmother to his children. Our photo albums would not be filled by him. And our lives would never be the same. No more memories with Christopher in them.

Could this really be? Yes.

That first day, my “Mother-on-Earth” — my mother has passed — told me, “Don’t let anyone tell you have to get over this…EVER!” I still treasure these words. Who would ever want to forget their child?

Dealing with Anger

The #1 Question People most ask over the 16 years since Christopher was murdered is: “How are you dealing with your anger?” Friends, family, other victims, and inmates in the prisons where I have worked have all wondered about this.

This question always makes me pause. Then after a few moments, I answer, “I don’t do anger.” For me, anger is toxic. When I was growing up my father and stepmother would fight and scream at each other. I was frightened and made a decision that I would not relate to any person that way…ever.

The violence and anger involved in my son’s death is NOT understandable to me. I’ve thought about it allot, and I am still baffled about how any person can get angry enough to kill someone. I also felt that if I became angry and sad for the rest of my life, my son’s murderer was taking even more from me — and I was not comfortable with that. Even when life as I knew it was totally devastated, I knew that I had MUCH to live for. I have a very close family, and Christopher’s murder brought us even closer.

I know others who have suffered the tragedy of losing a child. Some worked through their anger to create a better quality of life for themselves. Others want to work through their anger, but don’t know how. Working with a victim advocate or exploring a restorative justice program can help. An advocate might also suggest grief groups or one-on-one counseling.

Having your feelings validated by another can give you hope. Many counselors have been through a similar experience, so you are working with a person who experienced something like what you are going through. They are walking and talking without crying every couple of minutes, which is encouraging! And time itself is also a wonderful gentle healer.

My most important advice is: Don’t let “the event” eat you alive. If you do, you are giving your perpetrator and the crime so much more power than he/she/it deserves. When he heard the news, a friend who is a criminal attorney said to me, “Radha, don’t let this man take any more from you. He has taken more than he was ever entitled to. Don’t move; don’t not go on vacation – LIVE! Don’t let this man take more from your life and the life of your family.”

After Chris was murdered, I realized quickly that I needed to find comfort to survive this murder — and not only live, but thrive. I feel the need to help others, to be a positive person in my life with family, friends and even with people I don’t know. I believe that even if you just buy a newspaper from someone, the interaction should be respectful and kind. You never know who is going to cross your path in life or what impact you might have on those you meet.

Of course, I understand that anger may well be a part of many people’s reaction to the loss of a child, whether it’s caused by natural disaster, accident, disease or crime. And I do think anger can fuel movement towards a better something. But anger that is not directed toward anything positive is not only useless; it’s toxic for everybody who comes into contact with it. Being out-of-control-angry does not allow any positive recourse. In my work with inmates, I learned that most of their crimes occurred in the heat of anger. In many cases that anger was fueled by fear or grief. But with no means of understanding or resolving the deeper causes, they acted from their anger.

When people are traumatized by a crime, their anger is not only directed at the cause of their loved one’s death. Their anger spreads. In addition to railing — “This isn’t fair!” “Why me?” — they lash out at others: “How dare you be happy and live your lives without experiencing suffering?” But we need to be here, fully present, for the living. How can you NOT be happy when your niece is getting married? How can you NOT be happy for the other children, friends and family in your life?

I remind those who have been victimized by a violent crime that others, aside from your close friends and family, DO NOT know you are suffering. They are not mind readers, and grief does not change your appearance or put a label on your forehead for others to see.

Putting aside my own feelings about the kind of life I want to live, I also believe that my son, Christopher, and all the others who have passed, do not want us to be miserable for the rest of our lives here. They do not want to feel that their death has condemned us to anger and suffering. They want us to live fully. I think we honor those who have passed by living the best life possible for ourselves.


Radha Stern

Radha Stern Since the murder of her son, Christopher, in 1996, Radha Stern has devoted herself to helping others who have lost a loved one due to a violent crime. She created and maintains her website, Griefprints.com, to share her experiences throughout her journey from the darkness of grief into the light of gratitude. She is active in Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (formally the Legal Community Against Violence) and the Insight Prison Project, as well as The Compassionate Friends, an organization for parents who have lost a child. Radha is an experienced grant maker, fundraiser, and marketer, and her extensive volunteer activity over the last two decades includes work with trade organizations, advocacy groups, and victim’s rights programs. She is a past member of the Board of Directors for the Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corporation; a program officer for a family philanthropic foundation that supports organizations providing basic services to critical-need populations; and a volunteer at the San Francisco and Marin Food Banks. Radha’ s book, Griefprints: A Practical Guide for Supporting a Grieving Person, will be published this year. She is also a contributor to the inspirational book Courage Does Not Always Roar: Ordinary Women with Extraordinary Courage (Simple Truths, 2010). A native Californian, she lives with her husband, Gary; together they have five children and five grandchildren.

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