Monday, December 14, 2009

A letter to Sean

By Susan Murphy Milano

On November 28th, 2009, Karen Kahler and her daughters Emily and Lauren were shot to death by Karen's estranged husband while they were visiting her grandmother, Dorothy, for the Thanksgiving holiday. Dorothy was also shot and died a few days later.

Sean, a 10-year old son, escaped while bullets were being fired upon his family by his father inside the house, running for his life and surviving this horrific tragedy, phyically unharmed.

[As a violence expert and veteran to surviving family homicide, I was moved to write this young man a letter. Although I am using Sean's name it could have been Craig, Jennifer, Alice, Tom, Christopher, Bobby, Kathy, Lisa, Andrew, Laci, Conner, Cheryl with a list that goes on and on of children left to find their place in this world without those whom they love and, more importantly without answers.]

Dear Sean:

This is your first holiday without your sisters, grand grandmother and mother. The events that lead up to their deaths will for a very long time play out over and over in your mind as if you are watching a scary movie. You will have terrible nightmares, cold sweats, and be woken by a soft tender voice comforting you, suggesting "you to go back to sleep, it's okay. It was only a dream." But, you find going back to sleep difficult. Instead you may cry or get angry. And that is okay.

While you are awake, during the day, something will remind you of the tragedy. A dog barking outside, a silly commericial on television or simply the closing of a bedroom door. It doesn't take much really to remind you of what happend. And in the months to follow you will probably wonder when will you stop feeling so horrible. When will the pain go away? Some days will be better than others. And sometimes the pain you feel will be with you as if it were your worst enemy. You can't tell it to go away. You are not able to run from it. It will be your companion for many months.

After Christmas and New Year's it will be time for you to go back to school. At first you will have the feeling of your body being in a kind of thick fog. And your feet will not feel as if they are touching the ground as you walk. I suggest a relative sew in marbles or a few coins in the cuff's of your pants. This will help you feel like you are weighted down in some way. At the start of your first day back you might notice mom's driving or walking their kids to school. This will make you miss your mom all the more. You might be overwhelmed by this and ask the person who took you to school to bring you back to the house. You are not ready yet. This is a normal feeling.

Once you start feeling a little better and return to school try and get involved in a sport that you enjoy. Try to make friends with other kids in your class. And if you are invited to do something after school over on the weekend, accept the invitation only when you feel ready. Sometimes adults make us feel like we have to try or do something we do not feel ready or comfortable doing. Use your best judgement in each situation.

Maybe start your own private journal. Include the times you shared together with your Mom. The trips you took or how she made a special meal you enjoyed. On holidays make your mom a special card and place it in the journal. When your mom's birthday approaches do something special that she might have enjoyed sharing with you. If she had a favorite saying remember to write it down so you will always remember her words. Keep special photo's in the journal or on a disk. If your mom's voice is on her cell phone or the house phone on a recording ask a relative to make a few copies for you so you can hear her voice when you are feeling sad.

The most important piece of advice I can offer you is that you are stronger than you may believe. When you have bad days remember that your mother, although she is in heaven, lives in your heart. And even though you are not able to see or touch her in human form, she walks beside you proudly, from the moment you awake, until the time you rest your head at night.

The love of your Mom will remain with you Sean, every single precious moment as you grow and build your own life, finish school and someday have a family of your own.


  1. What an article! Beautiful and practical.

    You mention that Sean is stronger than he may believe. It's a wonderful thing that even a ten-year-old has resources that he can reach inside himself. At the same time, it's so sad that he must reach for them.

    Susan, thanks for posting this, for your letter to Sean, and simply for being there for those who so desperately need the expertise and experience you have to offer.




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