Earlier this week this nation added yet another to its grimly unprecedented murder toll for 2019 when 39-year-old Zanaba Moore lost her life in a stabbing incident at her Christ Church home.
Many of the headlines since the beginning of the year have been on the measures Government wants to take to reduce the levels of violence, including a gun amnesty earlier this month.
So far, much of the violence has been attributable to ‘turf wars’ between rival gangs in the illegal narcotics trade.
But this week’s tragedy has rekindled the discussion of domestic violence and the importance of people knowing their partners, especially if they have committed prior offences of this nature.
It gives none of us in the media any joy to report on these scenes of loss and despair. But it is not our job to avert our eyes, and by extension, divert the nation’s attention from these events lest we become numb to them or deem so commonplace as to not be considered news. And then where would our nation be?
So it is our duty, woeful as it may be, to inform the public, face the horror and grief and shock and seek comments from authorities and experts on the wider societal repercussions of the event.
We try to examine the root causes and share the details of the criminal trial in which the accused is brought to justice and is presumed innocent until proved guilty – an outcome that may be a few years after the fact.
But we freely admit that there is a side of the story that in the hurly-burly of human events few if any ever really think about.
Regardless of the circumstances that led to a victim’s demise, that person was someone’s child, parent, sibling, cousin, schoolmate, work colleague, neighbour or friend. In sum, a human being was deprived of his or her most precious civil right – an absolute right to life.
While the story will eventually disappear from the headlines and from the general population’s collective memory, it never goes away from those who knew and loved the victim. We have ourselves reported cases in which close relatives of murder victims die not very long after losing their loved one, either via suicide or in some cases to what is often summed us as death by a broken heart, as immeasurable grief leads to a life-threatening illness like cancer or heart disease.
In a small society like this one, that grief is even more pronounced, especially if the incident occurred in the home, at a place the surviving relatives have to pass every day. The survivors often have to endure gossip, much of it salacious and spread by those who never even met the victim or and know nothing more than hearsay about the circumstances surrounding the death.
According to counselling experts, traumatic incidents like murders and suicides can affect survivors in many ways, starting from the moment they get that fateful telephone call or a police officer arrives at their door bearing the bad news. That initial reaction is often physical shock, numbness, disorientation, panic attacks, hyperventilation, constant crying or the inability to cry, nausea or increased heart rate.
After that first response, as time goes on they can get recurring nightmares about the incident, regardless of whether they know exactly what took place; rage towards the person responsible and a desire for revenge in some cases; depression and helplessness, hatred towards God; loneliness and isolation. The complex of mental ill-health is what experts term Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – PTSD.
The grieving process is also different. Deborah Spungen, an American clinical social worker whose child was murdered, says: “Homicide is more complex to deal with because of its sudden nature, the intensity of the survivor’s reactions and the fact the person has died at the hands of another person.
“In the aftermath of a homicide, the co-victims [the term she uses to describe the surviving relatives] are often involved in activities imposed on them by the medical examiner, the criminal justice system, and possibly the media. Such involvement is not by choice, and these endeavours are time-consuming, physically and emotionally exhausting and sometimes quite public, so this prolongs the natural grieving process.”
In many instances, the families only achieve any real closure when the trial or inquest is completed and the judgement is rendered, whether on the act or on the person or persons accused of committing it.
There are other elements that may exacerbate trauma too, such as if the incident occurred in broad daylight, actually witnessing the event [particularly traumatic if it occurs in front of young children], the type of murder, and proximity of the family of the murder victim to the site of the incident.
Social media’s pseudo-journalists who pop up on crime scenes capturing every detail on their smartphones with gory detail and crass commentary are often mindless of the grieving relatives as they try to ascertain what happened while the family is still trying to make sense of everything, or next of kin are yet to be identified.
Constantly replaying the murder scene on television, or these days via social media can also be very painful.
So how do we help these survivors?
Counselling is extremely important, and there are many avenues available for this including private therapists, the polyclinic system, the Child Care Board and the Mental Health ward at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital. Every religious denomination offers counselling, either from individual clerics or through the church, synagogue or mosque’s head office. The National Assistance Board also has a Bereavement Support Hotline.
Organisations in Barbados must become more vocal in letting people know that they are available to help, and volunteer their services not only in the immediate aftermath but on a more long term basis because recovery from such events can often take a lifetime.
Counsellors must remember to show empathy, encourage the relatives to talk about the victim and their memories, both good and bad, in an effort to help them regain control over their lives so that unfortunate experience does not destroy them psychologically or indeed physically.
In sum, just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community, a nation and its authorities to seek to bind deep wounds, as a gaping hole is made in the fabric of our society with every human being’s violent death by homicide or suicide.