What Happens to the Survivors of a Homicide?
Homicide survivors--the family and friends of the murder victim--are commonly placed
under stress levels that are incomprehensible to most people. There is no commonly
experienced stressor any greater than the death of a spouse or child. This incredible
burden is magnified many times when the death was intentional, and worsened still
when it includes prolonged and intense suffering. Because of intrusions by the legal
system and the press, the catastrophic level of stress can continue for years--even
One way severe stress manifests itself is through medical illness. Simple, widely-used
scales can predict an individual's risk of serious medical illness based on the stressors a
person has suffered within the last year. Here is such a scale:
It doesn't matter how "strong" you are. If you are pounded enough, you will begin to
break down. Even if you keep your head together, the body will fail. It's an indication
the immune system--along with every other system--is overwhelmed. It's one reason
there are so many deaths among the widowed.
Any score above 300 carries an 80% chance of a serious medical illness.
When I first took this test, in the fall of 1999, my score was 685. And that didn't include
the stressor of being considered a murder suspect, the attacks by the press, an ongoing
fear for my life, and discovering Karen's body. I was fortunate enough to only have 100
minor illnesses, rather than one major one. A friend of mine told me then I appeared to
be aging a year every two months or so. I had lost 25 pounds.