Thursday, October 13, 2011

In The Aftermath of Tragedy

By Susan Murphy Milano

Sometimes there are news stories that have an impact on us all months and sometimes years later. I recall how shaken I was at the time I read the news headline in 2009, “Domestic Violence leads to yet another death Anne Morell Petrillo. Forget, for a moment, that this 38 year-old woman who committed suicide was the daughter of heiress to the Scripps newspaper fortune.

In January of 1993, the then 22 year-old Anne found her mother Anne Scripps Douglas, 47, beaten and unconscious in the master bedroom of her New York home. Her mother never regained consciousness and died in the hospital a few days later. Anne’s step-father, a suspect, was not formally charged at the time for beating his wife to death with a hammer. He eventually committed suicide 3-months later jumping to his death from the exact same place that Anne Morell Petrillo chose to end her life.

In 1989, 5 years earlier, in Chicago, Roberta Murphy, also 47 years of age, would be discovered by her daughter, on the kitchen floor, dead with a bullet to the head. Philip Murphy, a decorated violent crimes detective, was in the bedroom dead of a self-inflicted gunshot to the head.

The question is, years after her mother’s murder why did Anne Morell Petrillo take her own life? Unfortunately, I know the answer.

The world expects surviving family members of homicide victims to transition the all consuming pain of loss into one of “getting on” or getting over the grief.” When a loved one dies under tragic circumstances the human mind plays the game of “if only I had gotten to the aid of that person” I could have saved them from being killed. If only I did not go out with my friends or not stopped for gas I could have somehow prevented the tragedy. A crime victim plays out the day, hour and moment leading up where the hands on the clock stopped moving to when they received the news or discovered the bloody body as if they were watching their lives while glued to a chair playing on a movie screen. The tragedy is paralyzing. Learning how to get out of one's one way in the aftermath becomes a daily struggle.

There are those who seemingly move past the grief like John Walsh whose son Adam was abducted and killed, Marc Klaas whose daughter Polly was sexually assaulted and murdered. But the truth is, they have not, instead each man has bravely channeled their energies to implement laws and hold the legal system accountable for those who prey on innocent and helpless children. Their “purpose driven life” is what allowed them to keep the grief and pain manageable, moving forward to help others.

As a society, there simply is no embrace in the aftermath of tragedy. Society dictates we all move on and as much as we try it is not possible to accomplish. Long after the lines of friends and family surround us in our darkest hour before our loved one is laid to rest, we as homicide victims are forced to proceed with our lives. Promises of remaining in contact by friends and family vanish when we attempt to talk about the tragedy or how much we miss the person. We are not invited out to dinner, nor called to see how we are doing. Instead, the survivor is pointed towards or referred to those in the mental health profession for guidance to assist them with the pain, because they too, those who knew us best prior to the tragedy, do not want to be reminded.

Many years have passed since the murder of my mother and suicide of my father. For me and thousands of others, each day is a constant struggle to find the hope and light that fuels our very existence.

Anne Morell Petrillo did not opt out of life because it was easy. She took her own life because society, those who initially surrounded and loved her, evacuated, taking with them the hope and light that she so desperately needed to survive.

As human beings we have an incredible ability to reach out to the others in our community, family, friends and strangers whose lives have been changed by events out of their control. The cost to us perhaps a cup of coffee and our time. This simple act of kindness is often the reason for those without hope to get up in the morning, because someone took time out of their day and acknowledged their existence.


Susan Murphy Milano is a staff member of the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education. She is a specialist with intimate partner violence prevention strategies and high risk cases and available for personal consultations through the Institute. She is also part of the team at Management Resources Limited of New York.

Susan is the author of "Time's Up: A Guide on How to Leave and Survive Abusive and Stalking Relationships,"Moving out, Moving on, and Defending Out Lives. Susan is the host of The Susan Murphy Milano Show, "Time's Up!" . She is a regular contributor to the nationally syndicated "The Roth Show" with Dr Laurie Roth and a co-host on Crime Wire.

If you would like to schedule Susan Murphy Milano for training and interviews, please contact:ImaginePublicity PO BOX 14946 Surfside Beach, SC 29587 Phone: 843.808.0859 email-

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