New support group offers help to murder's 'other' victims

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2000

Murder means the tragic end of a life. But those whose lives go on, the friends and families of the dead or even of the perpetrators, are victims, too. They survive, but with a unique burden of grief.

Now, people in that unhappy situation can get help through a new support group being organized by Hospice of the Central Peninsula. Starting Wednesday, a self-help grief support group will begin meeting monthly for homicide survivors.

Anyone interested should call the Hospice office at 262-0453.

The group's facilitators, Alice Fairchild and Kendra Cutsworth, know the territory first-hand.

"Until you've lost someone to homicide, you don't know what it's like," Fairchild said.

Fifteen years ago, her mother-in-law was murdered near Soldotna. The murder has never been solved.

"It changes you. You are never the same," she said.

You can be in the supermarket or on the street. A stranger walks by, and you think, "Is he the one?" she said.

Cutsworth's father was killed in Anchorage five years ago.

The loss is totally different from losing someone to illness, which she said she also has experienced.

"It is not the same. It is so indescribable," she said. "You feel robbed when someone is taken that way."

The group will be a confidential, informal opportunity for people to share and talk about their loved ones, their grief and healing.

Cutsworth attended such a group in Anchorage, sponsored by Victims for Justice, after her father's death.

"I found it very beneficial in a group setting to be able to tell your story and talk to people who have been through similar things," she said.

The group is not for counseling, but is an opportunity for friendship and support, she said.

Fairchild stressed that the group is not for everyone.

"We have to do a little bit of screening," she said. "You have to have lost someone to be in this group."

This will be the first time the central peninsula has had a group like this, the women said.

Both learned about the idea from Victims for Justice, a statewide group with an office in Anchorage that championed legal reforms starting in the 1980s and continues to provide court support and grief counseling for crime victims.

Until resigning several months ago, Fairchild worked for the district attorney's office as an advocate for families during murder trials. Although recent victims' rights legislation requires such advocates for families in court, the service ends when the trial does. Such court cases are stressful ordeals that reopen emotional wounds and sometimes leave survivors dismayed at unfavorable outcomes, she said.

"If something like that happens, who do they go talk to? There is a big void there," she said. "When the case is over, it's over. If they are still hurting, this is the only group."

Fairchild noticed that family members of murderers also suffer from the crime. She recalled one time coming out of a court house and seeing the mother of the defendant weeping alone in the parking lot.

Even though a killer may remain alive, they are effectively lost to their loved ones. The support group is for those people, too, she said.

"I am not going to draw the line anywhere," she said. "They are all victims."

Fairchild turned to Hospice, which also provides care for the terminally ill and sponsors grief-support groups for mothers who have lost young children. She has been working with Hospice organizers for about a year to set up this new group, she said.

Cutsworth came to Hospice separately to volunteer and was introduced to Fairchild.

"We had a lot in common," she said. "Alice and I seem to have a real chemistry. We are able to work together well. She has a lot of background I need to draw from."

The two women said they are not sure who will step forward for the group, but they are certain there is a need and it will be beneficial, even for themselves.

"I know I will benefit from it, too. It can really bond people," Cutsworth said.

Honoring her father's memory through serving others is her other motive. "I need to do something positive with what happened," she said.

Fairchild noted that grieving people often find it easier to stay at home, but getting out and sharing can be an important step in dealing with the pain.

"I think we can help people if people will come out to see us," she said.

Cutsworth emphasized that joining the group is not a cure for broken hearts, but a real help. "The pain is always there," she said. "It is just not as intense as it used to be."

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