Therapy helps people who have lost loved one to violence
Her stepdaughter’s children were her top priority, and Tina Crone devoted herself to their care.
She took them in, eventually won custody and sought counseling to help the two accept the traumatic loss of their mother, Becky Brosnan, who was beaten to death by her estranged husband – the children’s father – in February 2009.
But Crone struggled to cope with Brosnan’s sudden and violent death. Talking about her only brought tears, so she buried her feelings and tried to ignore the nagging pain that burned each day.
“I was literally crying every single day,” Crone said. “I thought I could handle it on my own, but you really can’t.”
Crone credits an intensive therapy group with helping her cope.
“It changed my life so much,” she said. “Now I can talk about it without completely breaking down. Before, I couldn’t even get the words out.”
Offered through Lutheran Community Services, the group offers intensive therapy in which participants retell a loved one’s death to help them deal with the trauma of a violent passing.
The idea is to teach family and friends to focus not on how the victim died, but on how they lived.
Counselor Dan Fox says many people carry a seemingly unshakeable picture of the traumatic death, which he calls the “death image.” It “comes back over and over again,” he said.
Group members re-enact the tragedy through a drawing. They’re also asked to show where they would place themselves in the drawing as part of what Fox called a rescue fantasy.
“The idea is to take what’s in their head and bring it outside so they’re not alone,” Fox said.
Group members are asked to talk to the victim as if he or she were with them today.
Often, survivors say the victim would tell them “you’ve spent too long thinking about me, it’s time to move on,” Fox said.
“Recovery from this type of death is a lifetime process,” Fox said. “But what we can do is get them on the path.”
And it helps. Crone said she’s now better able to talk about positive memories of Brosnan with her children.
“It was really a wonderful experience for me,” she said.
Crone was recently awarded full custody of Brosnan’s 7-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son. Their father, Uriah J. Brosnan, who impersonated his estranged wife on MySpace after her death, is serving an 18-year prison sentence for second-degree murder.
Fox was trained in the therapy, called restorative retelling, eight years ago at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center. About 60 people have participated in Lutheran Community Services’ sessions in the past seven years. Some had lost loved ones to drownings. Others to stabbings, car crashes and beatings.
One man’s father was stabbed to death outside a bar 26 years ago. The man remained fixated on an image of his father grabbing a bar patron’s pant leg and gasping for help, Fox said.
“It literally stays in suspended animation for as long as you don’t deal with it,” Fox said.
The group meets several times before drawing the death image. They discuss the trauma of violent death and the added grief of police investigations and media coverage. And they try to focus on remembering the good times without immediately thinking of the traumatic death.
In one session, each member is to bring in a positive reminder of their loved one.
Some bring in the victim’s clothing. One woman brought in salsa her lost loved one used to make.
“Instead of only focusing on the black end, it’s a way of looking at the spectrum of colors that make up that person,” Fox said.
Crone said that, initially, drawing her image of Brosnan’s murder seemed too daunting. But Fox urged her to continue.
“He kept telling us, ‘it’s really super hard, but it helps so much,’ ” she said. Crone says she’s now able to help Brosnan’s son and daughter focus on positive memories because she’s no longer hung up on the tragedy.
“You really don’t allow the good memories of your loved one to come in your mind, all you can think of is, ‘Oh my God, what did she go through,’ and ‘Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,’ ” Crone said. “You have to somehow get past that.”