When I was in college, my professor taught that the opposite of love was indifference. Throughout my life, I have witnessed the truth of his teachings. This past week, however, forty years later, has disproved his teachings and erased my belief that he taught me the truth.
This weekend I worked for a family full of love for each other. Many of its members had not seen the others for years as they live far distances apart. In fact, the time of separation between family members has been so long, that some did not recognize those with whom they had grown up playing. I watched this family closely, for they were in my building under the very tragic circumstances of murder. I expected angry outbursts, inconsolable grief, and temper flares all week, but they never surfaced.
The core group of this family is matriarchal, educated and cultured. They arrived at the funeral home early Monday morning to arrange funeral details. Their young decedent, who had been orphaned early in life, had been reared under the tutelage of his widowed grandmother.
The tragedy and senselessness of murder bring uncontrollable raw responses to the lives of co-victims. They will experience both physical and emotional responses. Physically, the body will attempt to protect itself from the trauma. This response is commonly known as the “Fight or Flight Response.” One may experience physical shock, disorientation, hyper-alertness (brought on by adrenaline rush,) heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, sweating, hyperventilation, difficulty breathing, tightness of chest, uncontrollable sobbing, inability to cry, a void of emotion, panic, and/or numbness. Emotionally, co-victims may respond with anger, rage, fear, terror, confusion, guilt, self-blame, shame, sorrow, frustration, humiliation, or overwhelming grief. Any or all of these responses, both physical and emotional, have the ability to overpower the brain. This creates a dangerous situation for co-victims. It thrusts them into a grave potentiality of not surviving the murder of their loved one.
Murder is surrounded by public curiosity and rule of law. Co-victims must endure news reports, police interviews, public speculation, ongoing investigations, and trials. They may be caught in the lair of constantly reliving the trauma of their loss as justice tries to right the wrong they have been dealt. They may begin suffering nightmares about the murder, anger toward their beloved decedent for being murdered, rage toward the murderer, rage toward law enforcement for an inability to establish justice, depression, helplessness, loneliness, isolation, or disbelief or hatred toward God. These added emotions compound the functional inability of the brain and can create long-term impact on the co-victims character. They interfere with grief work and create complications too great for unassisted recovery. The impact may affect several generations.
The women, who came to my funeral home on Monday, were very composed. They systematically organized their funeral services and accompanying activities. As the week progressed, everything fell perfectly into place. The visitation, held Friday evening, saw composed and strong relatives throughout the night. If anyone neared an emotional display, I noticed that he or she would immediately excuse him or herself and exit the building until regaining composure. The matriarchal government of this family was very nurturing, caring, and equally composed. I was quite astonished at the emotional strength of these governing women. They were able to carry the burden of murder, nurture their loved ones through this horrific injustice, and control all outward physical and emotional displays of trauma within their family and friends.
In their funeral folder, I was asked to include instructions for visitors to avoid condolences to the family. As a funeral director, I understood this request. Funeral day can be the worst day for the family. It is the final day that a loved one’s body is above ground. During the services, as we came to the allotted time for the sharing of experiences, the grandmother took the floor. She told her friends and guests that this was their time to share their stories and that later she did not want anyone coming up to her and offering condolences. She rose from her chair as a composed leader of strength, not wishing to offend, but merely informing those around her of what she expected of them.
She was so strong, so self-assured, so capable, so confident, and so composed. Her ability to control her emotions made her seem indifferent or unaffected by her loss. After working with her and her equally strong daughter and granddaughters this past week, I knew nothing was farther from the truth. It was at that moment that I realized my college professor had taught an incorrect principle. Indifference was not the opposite of love as he had taught.
These women, through the tragedies suffered in their family, have lost the men of five generations. They know love, they know loss, and they know the threat it brings. They have learned that to survive, they must be stronger than the suffocating evil that surrounds them. They refuse to become victims of the inhumane crimes perpetrated against their souls. They refuse to recognize it, to let it grow, or overtake them. In short, they are indifferent to it because that is what they must do to not die themselves. They are survivors.
At the funeral this weekend, I learned that indifference is the necessary opposition that one must acquire to gain control over the grim reaper’s exploitations of suffocating evil.
At this very moment, as I finished typing the final sentence of this article, my phone rang. The Reverend from this weekend’s services was on the other end of the line. He has informed me that the decedent’s sister just passed away on her flight home today from her brother’s funeral service. I am heartbroken. I now sit at my desk awaiting a very dreaded phone call from the strongest grandmother I have ever met in my life. Her heart, I know is broken beyond belief. The threat to co-victims is very real. Companion deaths are not uncommon. The unbelievable stress thrust upon survivors robs them of their abilities to sustain their lives. I pray that this family can endure this tragedy.
My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am the owner and Managing Funeral Director at Queen City Funeral Home in Queen City Texas. I am an author, syndicated columnist, and Certified Grief Counselor. I write books and weekly bereavement articles related to understanding and coping with grief. I am the American Funeral Director of the Year Runner-Up and recipient of the BBB’s Integrity Award. I deliver powerful messages and motivate audiences toward positive recovery. It is my life’s work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.
For additional encouragement, read other articles or watch video “Grief Briefs,” please go to my website at www.MourningCoffee.com.