Saturday 22 October 2016

How courage of Karen's family shone through the darkness

Patricia Casey

Published 13/08/2015 | 02:30

John Buckley hugs his wife Marian Buckley and their three sons outside Glasgow High Court
John Buckley hugs his wife Marian Buckley and their three sons outside Glasgow High Court

It would take a heart of steel not to be deeply moved by the speech of John Buckley, father of Karen, who was murdered in Glasgow in April as she walked home from a nightclub.

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Speaking to a crowd of reporters in front of the court in Glasgow, where Alexander Pacteau this week pleaded guilty to her murder, Mr Buckley spoke from the heart.

He was surrounded by his wife and family and what he said also reflected their emotions. He was understandably tired and from the inflections in his voice there was a palpable sense of weariness and emptiness in his world. And so there was also in the rest of the family, as they stood around each other and at the conclusion hugged and formed a protective circle.

The grief following murder is complex and is something that very few understand. There is little one can say to offer comfort. Even wishing for closure is too much since murder is incomprehensible, particularly when it happens on a dark night and is perpetrated in a random fashion, by an stranger upon a harmless young woman walking home.

Knowing that the victim could have been anybody whom the assailant happened to meet, but that it was your loved one, makes the world seem a very unsafe place indeed.

Often those left behind blame the victim, blame themselves or blame those whom their loved one was with.

Deep down, they know that this is irrational but the anger that this generates is an emotion that can pop up from nowhere.

Yet there was no hint of this in anything that was said by Mr Buckley, although he did articulate what many people must have been feeling when he described Pacteau as a "cowardly, vicious criminal" and "truly evil".

He spoke of something that is not often expressed but that, in my experience, haunts the families of those who are the victims of murder. He said the family had broken hearts at the thought of Karen's final moments as she struggled against her attacker, and that the last voice she heard was of the "cold-blooded, cowardly murderer".

It is important that these often unspoken thoughts were voiced for the sake of their own grieving but also so that the friends and neighbours of any family assailed by such a tragedy are aware of the thoughts, images and questions that haunt those left behind.

Most people will never meet anybody bereaved by murder but for those who do, they should know that the grief is protracted and unlike the usual bereavements that we deal with when people die from natural causes, there is never any "moving on" or "getting over it" because there will always be unanswered questions.

The most that can be hoped for is that the loved ones learn to accept and live with the immeasurable loss and sadness.

The legal process is a factor contributing to a sense of helplessness that those left behind experience. The legal personnel all play their part while they, the family, are often mere observers in what appears to be a courtroom drama. Repeated hearings add to the trauma.

If the result is an acquittal or what appears to be a lenient sentence, the feeling that the world is unjust is intensely experienced.

The Buckley family have not had to endure a harrowingly long wait for justice to be done, although sentence has yet to be passed. While there is some comfort in the speediness with which this sad process will be concluded, they know, too, that Karen will not be coming back.

Mr Buckley and his family are clearly a close and religious family who were accompanied by their parish priest to the court.

This too will assist them in coping with their terrible loss. Mr Buckley spoke of knowing that Karen will never come back and "we only hope someday to be with her".

Throughout this family's ordeal, they have behaved with amazing dignity. In speaking as he did, Mr Buckley has shown that he is a man of strength and courage. Tragically, their lives have been changed forever and nothing will be the same again for them. The matter will finally be dealt with in September, when a sentence is handed down to Pacteau. Then the Buckley family should be allowed to live their lives without media intrusion.

The road ahead will be difficult but their deportment in the face of immeasurable suffering has been inspirational.

Patricia Casey is Professor of Psychiatry at UCD and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin

Irish Independent

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