Supplement, Shock, Trauma, Response
By Bill Robertson.
Of significance in the way that Jeremy reacted to the murders and the way that he was later described by the police and media is the fact that he had had only a maximum of 4 hours sleep prior to being telephoned by Nevill and asked to attend White House Farm. It is inevitable that he was feeling disorientated and that he paid little attention to details that would later be used to build a case against him i.e. the precise time and order that he made telephone calls.
Jeremy was in no fit state to be interviewed by the police on the day of the murders. He was in shock and suffering anxiety when for example, at one point, Jeremy allegedly mentioned his interest in purchasing a Porsche car. At his trial the following year the prosecution alleged that Jeremy wished to purchase a new Porsche at a cost of many tens of thousands of pounds. They said to the jury that this planned extravagant expenditure showed prior knowledge that he was soon to inherit his parent’s wealth. The prosecution’s claim was erroneous; Jeremy did plan to buy a car but the vehicle in question was a replica Porsche kit car, at a cost of approximately £2000. Jeremy could afford such a vehicle without the inheritance money. The police later confirmed it was a replica car from interviewing the manufacturer that Jeremy had contacted. Thus, in unguarded moments Jeremy’s innocent comments were used against him at a later stage.
For the remainder of the day of the murders he was alternately badgered for information or left to ruminate; police actions were clumsy, insensitive and self-centred and not calculated to assist Jeremy. He was being treated merely as a witness to a crime rather than a victim of a crime which was how the police operated in those days.
In the 1980’s Police training and practices allowed no room for considerations of victim support. The police officers who had contact with Jeremy were experienced officers recruited in the 1970’s era when victim support was unheard of. The 12 week initial training course for police officers made no mention of the subject. The sole interest of the police was to obtain information from Jeremy as and when they wanted it and to keep Jeremy away from external influences as much as possible. (Jeremy also seems to have been asked to repeat the same information ad infinitum to various police officers and any slight variation in his story was later used against him).
While the main investigative police officer (DCI Taff Jones) never wavered in his belief that Sheila had murdered her family, Jeremy also had to cope with the unwelcome attention of DS Stan Jones who appears to have had a pathological determination to frame Jeremy for the murders. Apart from the various illegal searches of Jeremy’s house undertaken by DS Jones on false pretences there was the added factor that the seemingly alcoholic police detective expected to be given copious amounts of whisky every time he visited Jeremy at his home. This may seem a trivial detail but for someone grieving the loss of their family having a detective turn up unannounced and expecting there to be a bottle of whisky always available is an unwelcome additional pressure; DS Jones was seemingly not shy of voicing his disapproval if Jeremy did not have alcohol to hand.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross described a process of reaction to trauma and subsequent grieving as the ‘trauma cycle’ which involves phases of Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Jeremy experienced and no doubt continues to experience these aspects. In Jeremy’s situation due to the nature of the police investigation he was constantly being assaulted by fresh accusations and he would have experienced these emotions many times over.
The trauma stages have evolved since their introduction and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives. Jeremy’s loss was extreme and some of his reactions should have been expected to be extreme.
Due to the behaviour of the police and the media and his money-grasping relatives Jeremy was never allowed to work his way uninterrupted or with appropriate support through the stages described below.
The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are a part of the framework that makes up our learning to live with the one we lost. They are tools to help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. But they are not stops on some linear timeline in grief. Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.
This first stage of grieving helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. We go numb. We wonder how we can go on, if we can go on, why we should go on. We try to find a way to simply get through each day. Denial and shock help us to cope and make survival possible. Denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. There is a grace in denial. It is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle.
In Jeremy’s case the ‘denial’ stage was compounded by conflicting demands and emotions. It seems like at every moment there was someone making demands upon him whether the police, media or his relatives, or simply people demanding money, payment for services rendered. Money that Jeremy did not have immediate access to. Additionally, Jeremy suffered a series of shocks, not just one event, so he was in trauma and the process of denial over a long period of time. There was the initial murders; the hounding by Stan Jones and the betrayal by Julie Mugford; her accusations which must have seemed to Jeremy bizarre and false. Then his relatives turning against him; then being charged with murder; waiting to go to trial for a year. Throughout this period Jeremy would have been in the processes of ‘denial’ and ‘anger’ frequently. During this time people often turn to whatever coping mechanism they have to hand, for example, alcohol and drugs.
During the denial/anger phase people often resort to ‘quick fixes’, for example disposing of property in what may later appear an irrational or even callous manner. In Jeremy’s situation he needed cash to pay various bills and naturally sought the quickest solution, to sell some valuables. He was in no state of mind to appraise the situation rationally.
As a person accepts the reality of the loss and starts to ask themselves questions, they are unknowingly beginning the healing process. They become emotionally stronger and the denial begins to fade. But as a person proceeds all the feelings they were denying begin to surface.
Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process even though it may seem endless. By the time that Jeremy was arrested he would have been feeling emotions of anger towards many people, including the police who had assured him at the Farmhouse that ‘everything would be all right’. In the transcripts available of his various police interviews Jeremy displays remarkable self-control although he must have been extremely angry with the relentless nit-picking questioning by DS Stan Jones. The police interrogation tactic in the days before audio-recording of interviews with suspects was literally psychological torture of suspects, hour after hour of repetitious questioning; goading the suspect, insulting them, trying to provoke an angry response and a ‘confession’. Despite the mental torture Jeremy did not allow his anger to vent into an outburst against DS Jones; thus he held it inside his head.
Before a loss, it seems like you will do anything if only your loved one would be spared. “Please God, ” you bargain, “I will never be angry at my wife again if you’ll just let her live.” After a loss, bargaining may take the form of a temporary truce. “What if I devote the rest of my life to helping others. Then can I wake up and realize this has all been a bad dream?”
We become lost in a maze of “If only…” or “What if…” statements. We want life returned to what is was; we want our loved one restored. We want to go back in time: stop the accident from happening…if only, if only, if only. Guilt is often bargaining’s companion. The “if only” causes us to find fault in ourselves and what we “think” we could have done differently. We may even bargain with the pain. We will do anything not to feel the pain of this loss. We remain in the past, trying to negotiate our way out of the hurt. People often think of the stages as lasting weeks or months. They forget that the stages are responses to feelings that can last for minutes or hours as we flip in and out of one and then another. We do not enter and leave each individual stage in a linear fashion. We may feel one, then another and back again to the first one.
In Jeremy’s case he would have reflected time and again of what might have happened if he had not left a loaded rifle in the kitchen the night before the murders. Would Sheila have found a way to kill the family anyway? What if he had taken just two minutes to unload the gun magazine and store the gun? The police and prosecution returned to this subject at his trial and used it to condemn him.
After bargaining, our attention moves squarely into the present. Empty feelings present themselves, and grief enters our lives on a deeper level, deeper than we ever imagined was possible. This depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It’s important to understand that this depression is not a sign of mental illness. It is the appropriate response to a great loss. We withdraw from life, left in a fog of intense sadness, wondering, perhaps, if there is any point in going on alone? Why go on at all? If grief is a process of healing, then depression is one of the many necessary steps along the way.
Acceptance is often confused with the notion of being “all right” or “OK” with what has happened. This is not the case. Most people don’t ever feel OK or all right about the loss of a loved one. This stage is about accepting the reality that our loved one is physically gone and recognizing that this new reality is the permanent reality. We will never like this reality or make it OK, but eventually we accept it. We learn to live with it. It is the new norm with which we must learn to live. We must try to live now in a world where our loved ones are missing. In resisting this new norm, at first many people want to maintain life as it was before a loved one died. In time, through bits and pieces of acceptance, however, we see that we cannot maintain the past intact. It has been forever changed and we must readjust. We must learn to reorganize roles, re-assign them to others or take them on ourselves.