Steps to freedom - Overcoming grief

Mental Healthy psychologist Colin Matthews considers Meara’s story, about how a brave woman learns to live and love again following the murder of her son at the hands of his father and talks about grief as a process, advising how we can take steps to live again after tragedy.

Government statistics over the last 30 years or so show that the number of children murdered each year in the UK is about 80.  Most of these murders (around four out of five) are by a parent of the child.

When a child is killed, the nation tends to look to see who can be blamed, who can be brought to account.  Any child’s death is a tragedy but their death at the hands of a parent, someone who is meant to protect and love them is regarded as a hideous crime.

How on earth, therefore, does the remaining parent cope with the press and public attention and focus on them as well as having to come to terms with their own private grief?  Meara did not seek this attention.  She used it however to tell her story, to vent her anger at the people and systems she felt were the cause of her child’s death.  In shock at the start and struggling with the fact that her child had been killed, in common with many bereaved people she needed to tell her story.  She needed to express her love for her child.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  For each one of us, it is a very personal experience. However, commonly grief does follow a pattern, please see our stages of grief article to learn more about the stages we go through in the grieving process; however, in short the stages are:

  • Stage 1: Shock, denial and numbness
  • Stage 2: Anger
  • Stage 3: Yearning
  • Stage 4: Acceptance and integration
  • Stage 5: Moving on

The stages illustrated above are not necessarily experienced in a specific order and it may be that parts of each are experienced all at the same time.  Generally, however, you would tend to feel more in one stage than in another.  For example, perhaps more angry or more accepting.  Events after the death such as an anniversary, a newspaper story or an inquest may place you temporarily back in one stage.  There is also no set time for the process of grief.  For some, this may be months, for others, several years, particularly where the circumstances of the death have been tragic.  Psychologically, however, if someone is ‘stuck’ in a grieving process for more than two years, we would recommend that they speak to their GP.

Meara seems to have gone through the various stages of grieving.  She now seems ready to live for the future.  She has used the positive images of her son to encourage her to live life to the full.  She is now ready to start a new life and a new family.  She seems to have discovered a new meaning to life and a new direction while still keeping an important and permanent place in her heart for her son.

Further reading

If you or someone you know would like some support in coping with the death of someone close, we would recommend the following websites:

Child Death

The Child Death Helpline: 0800 282 986

Additional Freephone number for ALL mobiles 0808 800 6019

Bereaved Children

also see child bereavement website above

Bereavement (General)

Support after Murder or Manslaughter

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