Thursday, July 22, 2010


My Briefing column from today is here and here:

Coppell saga shows how complicated grief can be

The tragic, unbelievable story of Coppell mayor Jayne Peters and daughter Corinne has consumed me more than most news stories.

It's more than morbid fascination in the mystery and deception behind the murder-suicide in a suburb not far from my own. Peters, who shot and killed her daughter before turning the gun on herself, lost her husband to cancer. I did, too.

More than one Peters family friend told reporters in the past week that after Donald's death, Jayne and Corinne were never the same.

Of course they were never the same. Their husband and father died. It would be eerie if they were the same after the death as they were before.

There is absolutely no defense for Peters' actions. No amount of grief justifies murder.

But grief is a player in the still unraveling story. We don't know how much of Peters' final actions were because of her lies, financial straits, desperation, mental illness or grief. But as long as the people who knew Peters are speculating that grief played a role, we can't ignore it.

We tend to give folks a year to "get over" the death of a loved one. Everyone expects that first year to be difficult – the first birthday, the first Christmas, the first anniversary, the anniversary of the death itself. And then we hope that those grieving can pull themselves together and move on.

Weeks after my husband died, I was talking to a friend whose husband had passed away a few years before. I called Sharon after preparing one of Steve's favorite recipes.

I told her that I had sobbed the whole time I was chopping, whisking and baking.

"Will this get easier?" I asked Sharon, who had always been honest with me during Steve's health crises.

She told me it would – but not as quickly as I'd like. She gently told me that it took her three full years before she felt herself again.

I shared that conversation with my grief counselor.

Three years is optimistic, my counselor told me. It might take a full 15 years – the same amount of time Steve and I were married.

If you ask anyone who knows me if I'm different now than before Steve's death, no doubt they'd answer yes.

I am wearier. Quieter. More reflective. Less laid-back (and I wasn't all that carefree to begin with).

I am also more aware of the preciousness of life and small blessings and the role of community and the power of faith.

I am in no way healed, but I'm working on it – even if I'm only 10 months into a 15-year journey.

Another grief counselor I worked with described two people as overlapping circles. When one of the two dies, a hole is created where the overlap was. The edges of the hole are jagged.

With time, those jagged edges should smooth out, even if the hole is never refilled.

How much of Peters' actions were influenced by jagged edges of grief? We'll never know. But her story makes me pause.

To say she was never the same after her husband's death isn't enough. I want to know if she sought counseling for herself and her daughter. If she confided her fears to even one person. If she continued to find joy even while heartbroken. If she was capable of mind-boggling deception and homicide before her husband died – or only after.

Tyra Damm is a Briefing columnist. E-mail her at

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