by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
May 17, 2001
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- Whether it's a school shooting, the Oklahoma bombing, a suicide or a Volkswagen hitting and killing my teenaged son, there is no closure beyond what happens at the very moment our loved one dies.
The door slams shut at the last breath and there's no reaching through the ether to say, "Oh, by the way, one more thing, I love you," or words of apology or regret, or just to announce something insignificant if they were living but monumentally important now.
Slam! It's over, the life of this vibrant person is gone from your world -- a world with the audacity to keep on turning.
"Hey, wait a minute, I didn't finish... Come back." It just doesn't work that way and if the grieving families of Tim McVeigh's victims think closure is still to come, they're living in a fool's paradise. Right now they, and everyone who endures the sudden death of a loved one, are trekking through the stages of grief that will take them to acceptance. On the surface, the ones I've seen interviewed this week look fairly normal.
Underneath their socially acceptable calm they're experiencing chaotic emotions ranging from the initial rage, through dumbness, followed by disbelief, then anger, betrayal, more debilitating rage, regret, sorrowful remorse and even guilt. Guilt? Yes, because they meant to drive that day, they should have done this they should have done that, until the internal "shoulds" almost outweigh McVeigh's "should not have."
They function in spite of these crippling emotions because they're looking for "closure," and there is none. There is only accepting the unacceptable. Survivors will come to grips with that in their own time, in their own way.
Maurice Warner, a mental health counselor at the University of Washington, said he doubted watching McVeigh die would bring many viewers relief from the pain the bombing caused them. He suggested further that some families might feel violated.
"People very often feeltrashed in their personal issues of loss, when you have all these strangers tromping on what has affected their lives," Warner said. "Their experience is so unique, and they would be very aware ofthe intrusion by people who presume to know what it's like."
Some of the families look at the execution as the end of it all. The pain started with the first blast and continued through the funerals, the escalating wall of flowers and teddy bears, through the trial, on to the conviction and sentencing, to the date of execution days away. They were getting close. Whether they or the nation believes in capital punishment or not, the story that had a beginning and a middle would now have an ending. A closure.
That was not to be. A one-month stay of execution brought more of the same emotions that were beginning to soften around the edges: disbelief, rage, betrayal. Just when they thought they couldn't go one more day, they faced 30 more. They've had a reprieve from having to hide their grappling emotions, gaining the right to be openly angry again.
"I need closure," more than one survivor has said to interviewers.
What they really want is catharsis.
They want to be purged of the one debilitating emotion continuing to feed their insomnia, fear. Until McVeigh's execution is carried out, there is the fear the man who called their children "collateral damage" in his horrific bombing could someday walk the earth again -- while their loved ones never can. Inside that fear lives the gut-wrenching rage that keeps them going.These feelings are intense and confusing.
British author C. S. Lewis wrote these words shortly after his wife died: "In grief, nothing stays put. One keeps emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it?"
Executions should not be seen as therapeutic for the surviving families. So, then, how do they stop spiraling? Each in their own way, I suppose. At a certain point -- and there's no hard and fast rule about when that point is reached -- they might do as I did: Take a deep breath and begin to live one day at a time, concentrating not on how they died, but on how they lived.
It always makes me smile when I remember how he lived.
Oh, and yes, it really helped to realize nothing could ever hurt him again, nor can anything ever hurt me as much.