Fri | Aug 18, 2017

Michael Abrahams | A horrific type of grief

Published:Monday | October 31, 2016 | 10:25 AMMichael Abrahams

Last week, the outcome of the X6 murder trial and the fatal stabbing of a Jamaica College student left the nation in mourning.
The sorrow that follows death can be intense, especially when the victim is a child, the grief can be complicated and nightmarish. If these events affect so many of us who never knew these children, the torment the parents and other family members of these youngsters face must be overwhelming and excruciating.
On July 1, 2011, seventeen-year-old Kingston College student Khajeel Mais was shot dead when the driver of a BMW X6 allegedly opened fire on the taxi in which he was travelling after it collided with the sports utility vehicle.
According to Mais’ mother, Alana Mais, she was supposed to have taken Khajeel to a fete, but did not because she had to return home early for a meeting. The new plan was for him to take a taxi to a nearby bus stop and meet his friends at the venue of the event.
He was to have called his mother on arrival, but instead, she received a call from a street vendor that the car that her son had been travelling in had been shot up.
She subsequently rushed to the Kingston Public Hospital only to see her son take his last breath. She recalls screaming, and suspects that she may have been sedated, as she woke up several hours later in the hospital.Last week, the accused was found not guilty, after the taxi driver, the sole witness, claimed that he could not accurately identify the perpetrator.

Just two days later, fourteen-year-old Nicholas Francis, a Jamaica College student, was stabbed and killed on a bus. The teenager was allegedly accosted by a man who demanded his phone shortly after he boarded the vehicle.
Francis resisted, and was reportedly stabbed multiple times in the hand and chest by his assailant, who then threw him from the bus, causing him to sustain a fracture to his arm as his body crashed to the ground.
Not surprisingly, his mother was reported to be "in total grief” and his father “speechless". The perpetrator escaped, but subsequently the sole suspect for the crime turned himself in.
The level of distress caused by these two cases, to persons who did not even know these youngsters, is significant, but must pale in comparison to the grief experienced by family members, especially their parents.
Grief is a complex cocktail of emotions that follow loss, be it of relationships, jobs, or possessions, in addition to death, and include shock, disbelief, numbness, confusion, anger, sadness, despair, denial, guilt, blame and feelings of inertia and helplessness. When death occurs from natural circumstances or is accidental, these are present to varying extents.
But with murder, especially that of a child, one of the most vulnerable in the society, the emotions are multiplied several fold, for many reasons.
For example, in many cases, the perpetrators of these crimes are never brought to justice, and if the cases do go to trial, the process can be lengthy and frustrating. In the case of Khajeel Mais, more than five years elapsed between the murder and the trial. During that time, there have been two Olympic Games and our country has had two general elections. In addition to the protracted process, and contributing to the frustration, is the fact that the suspect left the country shortly after the crime and refused to hand over his firearm to the police for ballistic testing.
The media coverage and the images of the children and suspects in traditional and social media must be gut-wrenching for the families of the deceased. This, and public scrutiny of the victims and their families, rob them of their privacy and add to the distress, as rumours, which are often inaccurate, unhelpful and scandalous, serve to fuel the emotional chaos. In some instances, the deceased are victimised again, as aspersions are cast on their characters, and any flaws they may have had are thrust into the spotlight, although if one is brutally killed, these are of absolutely no significance.
These families need support - and lots of it. We must reach out to them. Our children are being slaughtered at an alarming rate, with the violent acts becoming more brazen and brutal.
It would appear that this has unfortunately become an epidemic, and a well-organised and publicised support group for the traumatised parents and families of slain children is sorely needed in our country.

Michael Abrahams is a gynaecologist and obstetrician, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.