Yesterday my phone rang, Anita Gibson the producer of 2UE’s Mornings with Angela Catterns was wondering about the children of murdered Dr Leonie Geldenhuy in Lithgow, outer Sydney NSW.
Please read on…
Sadly Dr Geldenhuy’s fatally wounded body was found by her two sons aged 13 and 18 according to the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper 4 June 2014.
Add to this the news later in the day of their fathers death, in what is believed to be suicide-murder.
The good folks at 2UE ‘s Morning show wanted to know what support those children were getting and would need.
These are important things to think about in the wake of such a tragic and unfortunate bereavement.
Murder and suicide are inevitably the most difficult types of death to cope with for family members.
The suddenness of this incident will have family, friends, Lithgow locals and the wider Sydney community feeling shattered. They will be in shock at these senseless acts of violence, possibly feeling helpless and confused as they attempt to process these desperate actions.
The children left behind will no doubt feel a wide range of emotions, anger, sadness, numbness, fear, shock and confusion all very normal and understandable.
They may be asking themselves questions about their mother and father in this type of loss – what were the persons last thoughts? Were they in pain? Did they know that they were going to die?
Generally people have very little time to think as things happen so quickly. It may comforting to know that our bodies have an incredible inbuilt shock system that helps deal with pain and threat when we are overwhelmed, as survivors of accidents attest.
Hopefully they will not be doing the “if only’s“. “If only I had known,” “if only I had…” these can be guilt inducing as we try to process and explain the inexplicable.
We can never truly know what is on another’s mind and what their plans are. Murder and suicide are usually secretive acts planned and thought out by the person well in advance.
I am sure the Police, Victim’s Services, family and friends will be providing full care and attention to the children.
It’s early days and we need to also keep an eye for the future for complicated bereavement issues.
Many children will appear to be fine but may in fact be numb or withdraw as a means to cope. This is fine but if it continues can lead to generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, acute and post traumatic stress disorder if it goes on for more than 30 days.
These children will need to supported if they continue to re-experience thoughts and images of their mother’s death – a strong indicator for post traumatic stress disorder. This can manifest as sleep disturbances, night terrors, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, or repeatedly expressed in art works, play, verbal retellings or writings. A bit like a broken record player.
Children’s normal fight or flight system can get stuck in a state of alert and fear – hyperarousal. Watch for hypervigilence, hair trigger startle response, increased irritability, being triggered easily with reminders of the trauma and repetitive behaviours associated with the event.
Children may even appear to be ok. It pays to check in with them – sometimes they may be numb and not really coping but shutting down.
They may avoid anything that reminds them of the event. This may mean avoiding thoughts, feelings or places connected with the traumatic experience. For example the child may refuse to ride in a bus if they were in an accident. It may seem kind of innocuous but this can be life limiting and is easily treated especially early on.
Children can also withdraw, shutdown, have pronounced forgetfulness, become depressed and show a very restricted range of emotions. They may not be able to recognise current threats and risks – often resulting in them putting themselves in harms way with dangerous risk taking.
If you see or recognise any of these symptoms in your grieving children or friends it is best to get it checked out, visit your Doctor for a referral to a trained psychologist.
The good thing is there is help out there and the sooner the better, otherwise these emotional wounds tend to fester and wreak havoc later on in a person’s life.
My deepest condolences to the Geldenhuy’s children for the saddest and unfathomable loss of both their mother and father.
May they rest in peace.
Big hugs and wet eyes – I can’t even begin to imagine the pain and shock you are in.