How to deal - when family member did the worst thing
November 21, 2018 8:14 PM   Subscribe

A family member killed someone last weekend. Drugs were almost certainly involved, and it sounds like it happened during a fight, so I’m not sure what the charges will end up being. It still is horrifying. If you have resources for family members who have been in this situation, I would really appreciate them, particularly free or very low-cost and low-barrier resources. Even like a website or online group would be useful. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Hello, I'm so very very sorry for what you are going through. I spent some time searching for resources after reading your question. They were surprisingly difficult to locate.

What I did turn up were several articles about family members of people who committed similar violent crimes. The recurring theme was that the family members themselves suffered mental health crises of their own, sometimes developing into chronic, decades-long battles.

I think maybe the best place for you to start would be trying some of NAMI's resources, which I'll link to below. This is not to say you are mentally ill, but that you are experiencing acute emotional distress that really no one is prepared to handle.

I wish I could offer a clearer option for you and I hope that others can help guide you more clearly. For now, take care.
posted by Temeraria at 10:09 PM on November 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

I'm so sorry you are going through this; it has to be a terrible shock.

I am not sure what country you're in, but I found some that seem to be generally useful:

Coping Over Time--Mental health coping strategies from families with incarcerated lived ones, from the Canadian Families and Corrections Network.

Coping Strategies, from a Virginia group, AFOI--Assisting Families of Inmates

I hope you are able to find a counsellor to talk to. If you do, you may want to look for someone who is familiar with the concept of disenfranchised or ambiguous grief. This is the type of grief experienced with a loss that isn't socially understood and supported.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:30 PM on November 21, 2018 [5 favorites]

Can you get the mods to post which country/state you are in without identifying details?

Some policeforce have community support links through social workers to resources for families of accused.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 10:50 PM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

You might look at A Mother's Reckoning, the book by Sue Klebold, the mother of one of the Columbine killers. She has also given interviews and talks.

Also, this is probably less relevant, but there is a This American Life about people who caused others' deaths. I'm not saying you caused this death at all, but maybe it could help you in some way relate to your loved one or otherwise learn how others have lived with this.

I don't know if it's still online, but you might also get something from the podcast described here as the director of Broadmoor mental hospital "discusses the humanity in caring for those who may have committed some of the most dreadful crimes and how one works to rehabilitate those many people would consider ‘evil’." Very different from being a family member of course.

I'm sorry you're going through this.
posted by salvia at 11:14 PM on November 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

And sorry, I was not at all meaning to imply that your family member is "evil." It was just a pull quote that described the podcast generally, and I quoted it without thinking. But I think the podcast and some of the associated material are helpful both in describing what the person who committed the crime might be going through, and also to hear the way she has empathy for them generally.
posted by salvia at 11:30 PM on November 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

In case part of the resources you're looking for include ones for helping your family member legally, the MeFi Wiki “Get a lawyer” page has a “Criminal Defense” subsection. I'm sorry this has happened to your family.
posted by XMLicious at 5:05 AM on November 22, 2018

I haven’t personally used it, but someone here recommended the app 7 Cups. I don’t seem to be able to link to it, but it’s described as an app for “free anonymous emotional support and counseling from trained active listeners.” There’s also chat rooms and support forums.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:02 AM on November 22, 2018

Prison Talk has a lot of different subforums, some of them for family members of people in prison or accused of crimes.

Wishing you strength.
posted by BibiRose at 6:25 AM on November 22, 2018

I'm so sorry you're going through this.

You might want to contact local police in your area. There may know of support groups for other persons/families in your area. Also, if you, yourself, feel endangered, you can contact a mental health crisis team. NAMI mentioned above is a great resource. If drugs were involved, you might also want to try Al-Anon/NA for more in-person support.

I'm not sure whether this applies for you, but Legal Services for Prisoners with Children is a great organization. They provide more support for people who are already incarcerated and/or are now outside, but may be able to help with some support and/or other resources if your family member has children.
posted by stillmoving at 6:27 AM on November 22, 2018

Assistance for families with a member whose been accused of or implicated in serious crime is hard to find, but it exists and is usually associated with another community service. I agree with the advice to come at this through related services--like legal aid, court services or addiction support services. If there is a local legal nonprofit that works with re-entry or incarcerated parents call and ask for referral to an agency or group that can help you cope--both practically and emotionally. Navigating court is hard or at least unfamiliar and you deserve assistance.

Like stillmoving said, any local group that supports parents in prison should have a referral for you, if they do not have a program to help you and your family--try a community group for parents of prisoners. Talk to local churches (even if you don't belong to one) as they may know of a group. If you've got a local social justice or bond reform community group focused on ending mass in carceration, reach out to them for advice on where to go or who to talk to.

Unfortunately, it may take a bit of effort to find help. If your insurance covers it, see a talk therapist for a couple hours on a regular basis. Like hurdygurdy girl said, try to find one skilled in disenfranchised grief. That's the subtext to why it's hard to find help for people in your position--society does not position you as among the harmed as readily as it should.

Kind thoughts to you and your family.
posted by crush at 7:38 AM on November 22, 2018

This sucks and I am sorry. I have, unfortunately, been involved in something like this though it was a not-super-close family member and it was a mental-illness related killed-someone situation. Going to an Al-Anon type meeting might help you get some space from this person if that has been a problem in the past. NAMI sometimes has good advice for dealing with trauma.

The hardest part of something like this--after the obvious awful feelings about what happened to the other person--are the fracturing effects it can have on the family as various family members "take sides" and/or try to grapple with their own feelings about the issue. And the family member involved in the crime needs support, if that is something anyone is willing/able to give. It's okay to be supportive. It's okay not to be supportive. It's usually a good idea to talk about it preferably with someone NOT in the family so part of it can be "your" story as well as the story of the family member because this will affect you.

There are probably legal issues involved which you may wind up getting involved with. It's okay to be supportive of your family member as they are involved in legal issues. It's okay not to be also. If this family member is not someone who is super close with you, you can also focus on being supportive to people who were closer to the and decide to not get terribly involved in the specific crime that happened. It's all really tricky and fraught, but I'd spend some quiet time deciding how you feel about things, consider talking to a therapist just so you can unload on a disinterested third party, and move forward knowing that whatever else happens, the holidays are a tougher than normal time to be dealing with this and be kind to yourself. Feel free to PM me if you want to talk specifics.
posted by jessamyn at 8:45 AM on November 22, 2018 [3 favorites]

My mother killed a man because she wanted him to side with her during a fight she was having with her boyfriend and got frustrated with him for not helping. In her case the cops said it wasn't convictable, but reading her diary after her death gave us the evidence that her boyfriend wasn't present -everyone in her circle previously blamed him because she was seen as the victim of his domestic violence although she initiated all their fights and was the first one to get physical. The man's death was unintentional - she shoved him down a flight of stairs that had no banisters. My mother, who had a significant personality disorder, felt that it was accidental and not her fault at all, because she never meant actual harm to happen to him, she was just trying to make him go talk the boyfriend and she really, really needed him to do it. She felt it was unfair and unkind to consider her culpable in anyway. She complained that she would have to think about it for a whole week and be distressed by thinking about it. What she did was inexcusable, as if she had called an ambulance he might well have survived. Instead she went back downstairs to continue the fight and he died of a brain bleed.

Assessment is needed in your situation. Not having been present, and without being able to actually get the details of what happened, you will want to access to what degree your family member is a dangerous person. Nothing has changed. The day before it happened your family member was capable of killing someone. They may change their life so they never are in a position to do this again, but they were capable of it before it happened.

A totally cold blooded assessment of how much contact and support to have with your family member will be made by each member of your family. Say the person is your son. Then both his parents and his siblings, and his partner and his grandparents and his children will all have to make this assessment. It is probable that most of them will automatically continue treating him as before, because social relationships are deeply ingrained. It is difficult to not miss someone at Christmas, and not buy them the gift card while you are out buying other gifts. It is difficult not to smile in response the way you always did when they smile at you. And at the same time there is writing on the wall. This person is someone who can cross a boundary that is written in red.

It may be that your family member is someone who can put themself into a situation where they have to kill or be killed, or it may be that your family member is incomplete and unable to understand that pointing a gun or a car at someone is dangerous and pulling a trigger has consequences, or it may be that your family member is someone who can kill out of passion, or it maybe that your family member is someone who calculatedly will kill a fellow human the way someone steps on a cigarette butt to put it out. You need to figure out which one is the case. You may never be able to figure it out because you are not without bias or revulsion and you are not capable of reading this person's mind or the mind of people around them.

If your family member assumes that you are going to continue to go on in the relationship with them and that you still owe them the same support, affection and connection it is a very bad sign.

Do not allow this situation to triangulate and cause disharmony in the family. If your son's partner decides that she will never allow him to see her children again, and you feel that your son killed only in desperate self defense, unintentionally and that your grandchildren need their father and your son needs his children, support your son's partner in her decision anyway, and support your son in her decision anyway. Do NOT argue, do not try to persuade. The only thing on the table are known facts, not conjecture, not feelings, not opinions, not explanations. Everyone in the family must make their own decisions how to react and be supported in those decisions and understood and loved. And they are allowed to change their decisions and they are allowed to act completely contrary to what they said they would do.

This does not reflect on you. This is perhaps a good time to think about the human capacity for destruction, but siblings, children, parents, lovers, grandparents, bosses, teachers, authorities, dependents, none of you had the capacity to prevent what happened or to change what was going to happen or to change the person who did it. It's not that we have free will - I personally believe that we don't have free will, only retrospect - It's that we are individuals. And between God and the Devil, Society and Personality, this happened and there is nothing that could be done either before or after to change it.

You may obsess over what you could have done differently. But what your brain is doing is obsessing over what you can do in future to keep this from happening again. And most likely if you think about it without the desperation to undo what happened, you will see that you already did everything you could do to keep it from happening, and if you magically went back and got to do things differently nothing else you did could change it. However your brain is designed to want to save and protect the people at all costs, so it will naturally flood you with futile thoughts of making sure this doesn't happen. When Sully Sullenberger landed the plane on the Hudson he spent the next week unable to sleep while his brain insisted on replaying everything he did during that hour in painful detail, trying to ensure that if he could have done anything better he would do it next time, despite the fact that he had saved everyone and done everything in a way that could not have been bettered and that there was never going to be a next time. He still had to go through a sleepless week. You too will most likely go through some sleepless weeks or years. Your brain is going to do this to you because brains that do this have more surviving descendants. By all means make a plan about how you are going to prevent this from happening again, but be aware that you could not change what has happened and you cannot change what has happened and that is a good thing, because we must not try to be responsible for the world. It is too much and it is infinite. If you could have prevented what your family member did you could have prevented the fire in Paradise and the devastation in Panama City. You do not and cannot and did not have that power because you get to have your own life, instead.

Show love to your family members. Be honest with each other. Be kind. Be kind to yourself. You have taken a body blow and above everything else forgive yourself and be kind.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:39 AM on November 22, 2018 [28 favorites]

Something like this happened in my family and I found the legal process confusing and opaque. The police and courts don't work at all like how I'd internalized them from my exposure to popular media. The two people I found helpful to talk to were the lawyer's office and the homicide detectives. The paralegal that worked with with the defense attorney was good at answering questions on the legal process and what to expect as well as explaining legal filings in English terms. They may ask you if you would act as a character witness, so be prepared to answer that question. They asked me both for corroboration of good deeds and if I knew of mitigating circumstances of the previous bad deeds that might come up at trial, as well as any details I knew about the relationship between the victim and the accused.

The lead homicide detective was forthcoming with all the information that they could share publicly, that eliminated a lot of the game of telephone and misinformation that happens when details were passed between family members. It was easier, for me at least, to have that conversation with a professional who was used to discussing forensic details than it would have been with a family member. Understanding what happened from an objective party was really important for my emotional well-being and to be able to square away my feelings about my sibling.

If this is going to trial, our court had special liaisons that work with the families of the victims and the accused to keep them separate to reduce the chance of an incident in the courthouse. That's something you might look for when/if you have to share a physical space with people who have a reason not to get along with your family.

If this is being covered by the media, you should decide as a family who, if anyone, should talk to the press and what they should say. Consult with your family member's lawyer before giving any statements.

Like stillmoving said, if your local police have a victim services section, they might be a good resource to find any local support groups, ours was able to help.

Hang in there.
posted by peeedro at 1:29 AM on December 1, 2018

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