Jennifer Hudson and her family are in shock and mourning. Coping with three homicides at one time is exquisitely brutal to their bodies, souls, and spirits. A feeling of horror, anxiety, and vulnerability may prevail for her and her surviving family members for many months to come.
Her mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, brother, Jason, and nephew, Julian King, were murdered. The bodies of her mother and brother were found shot in the mother's home in Chicago, Illinois, in the Englewood neighborhood. Her seven-year-old nephew, Julian, was found a few days later in an SUV parked along a street in Chicago, also shot to death. These are all horrific and senseless events.
Deborah Spungen, author of And I Don't Want To Live This Life: A Mother's Story Of Her Daughter's Murder, had this to share about coping with her tragic loss: she calls it "the blackest hell accompanied by a pain so intense that even breathing becomes an unendurable labor."
What the surviving Hudson family members once believed about the world is shattered, in the most violent of ways. A world in which there used to be some control, predictability, and safety is gone. If one’s mother and brother can be shot in cold blood in their own home, how can the world ever seem safe and secure? Emotionally, Jennifer, her family, and anyone else who has experienced a homicide has been violated and victimized. The deaths do not make sense and the question of "Why, Why, Why?" is asked relentlessly. Absorbing three murders is asking almost too much of the psyche. It is all so overwhelming and challenging. Planning one funeral is grueling. Imagine having to do three, especially one for a seven-year-old child.
In the case of any sudden, tragic death, there is no opportunity to say good-bye, thus leaving unfinished business for the grievers to cope with. This lack of closure produces feelings of being robbed, depression, and even despair. Death is final, there is not a redo, ever. Family members and friends ask themselves, “What should I have said the last time we spoke?” or “Could I have prevented this from happening?” Guilt abounds, as well as self-blame and shame. All three feelings are alive and well in the lives of those left behind and may take on a life of their own in the months following the homicides. It is common for survivors to blame themselves. This is played out again and again with, "If only I had insisted. . .” or “If only I had just. . ."
Survivor guilt may be another challenge for Hudson and other family members. This type of guilt involves a sense of relief at being alive, a debt owed to the deceased, and, perhaps, a sense of not deserving to live. These feelings of guilt may or may not be justified. Jennifer and her surviving family members might be haunted by wondering whether the family members suffered, whether they were in pain or scared, or if they knew they were going to die before the gunman pulled the trigger.
What Jennifer and her surviving family members once believed about the world is no longer true; everything has changed. Life as they once knew it will never be the same. Jennifer and her family's support system may also be compromised. The primary loss is the presence of the family members who were murdered. But there are also secondary losses, which include the losses of future life events with those who were killed, such as birthdays, graduations, weddings, etc. There may also be loss of a confidant, a one person with whom a survivor shared problems and the ups and downs of life. These deaths also prevent any resolution of past disagreements or angry feelings, which might otherwise have been settled at a later point in time.
The Hudson family members may begin dreaming about their deceased loved ones. Usually, there are three primary themes which emerge after homicides. First, there are dreams in which the loved ones are alive and well. Second, there are dreams where the mourner warns the deceased (who are alive in the dream) that they are in danger. The dreamer may try to intervene, but their actions are unsuccessful. Third, intrusive dreams occur when the mourners relive some part of the actual event surrounding the murder—e.g., when they were notified of the death, identifying the body, etc. In this kind of dream, a kind of déjà vu experience takes place.
Feelings of outrage directed toward the killer are normal and to be expected. Mourners may engage in elaborate revenge or retribution fantasies in which the perpetrator is tortured, castrated, degraded, and then killed. Wishing the perpetrator to pay in kind for all the suffering and the horror they have caused is normal, but fantasizing and acting out those fantasies are two entirely different phenomenon. Rarely do the grievers physically act against the perpetrator, instead leaving justice to the courts. Eventually many mourners learn to channel the rage and sense of injustice into something that makes a difference for others who have been touched by senseless murders. Think of John Walsh and America’s Most Wanted. But right now, the grief is too fresh, too new, too raw and too consuming.
Often mourners are left to deal with the media, a media hungry for information and with a willingness to pursue whatever it takes to get it. Hopefully, Jennifer and surviving family members know that it is not their job to feed this dragon. In times of trauma, when mourners are shell-shocked, it is sometimes difficult to say, “No, I don’t want to do an interview,” especially if the murderer is still at large. The grievers are torn: if the perpetrator has not been caught, any information given to the media may help law enforcement capture the criminal. The survivors are torn between speaking to the press to help find the perpetrator, and dealing with their overwhelming grief.
In this case a "person of interest" in being held for parole violations. Balfour is the estranged husband of Jennifer’s sister, Julia. He had been incarcerated for seven years for attempted murder, and was only released last year. As of today, he has still not been charged with the three murders.
Jennifer, Julia, and other family members, I wish you peace and healing, although that may seem an impossibility at the moment.
This brief essay is not meant to be a comprehensive, all-inclusive article on the grief and trauma involved in coping with deaths by homicide. Please see the links for more information.