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Deadly Affection Part 4 - Making Sense of the Unfathomable - in The Dallas Morning News

by Emily Roberts | Apr 23, 2014

Deadly Affection:Part 4 - Making sense of the unfathomable

The Dallas Morning News

Experts say children who lose a parent at the hands of a loved one struggle with anger, fear and loss

Every day a half dozen Americans die at the hands of someone they love. Most of them are women. Many are parents.

Kids who have lost a parent to an intimate partner know a peculiar kind of agony. They are hobbled by grief for the victim, bewildered by the killer and terrified of what it means. Where will they live? Who will love them? Are they destined to repeat the pattern and become an abuser or a victim? How do they relate to the killer?

“You’re grieving the loss of the victim, you’re grieving the loss of the person who did it ... that the world isn’t just, it’s not fair, that bad things can happen to people who don’t deserve it,” said Nicole Holmes, a psychologist with Friends of the Family, which provides services to victims of domestic violence in Denton. “It shakes your whole world view.”

Overcoming such a tragedy at an early age is possible but painful. The bloodstains fade, but the horror lingers. So do the questions. The following stories of three families at different stages of recovery offer a glimpse of the toll taken by domestic violence fatalities.

“Why did they die?”

LTTLE ELM – A little over a year has passed since “the incident.”

That’s what David Chomitzky calls his daughter’s murder.

He doesn’t call it an accident because he won’t lie to his grandson. But he hasn’t told the boy his father shot his mother before committing suicide, because that’s impossible for a 7-year-old to fathom.

It’s not much easier for a 63-year-old man. “They say time heals all wounds,” Chomitzky said recently. “But right now it’s still bleeding. It’s hard to get up in the morning.”

He worries about raising his orphaned grandson. And he is haunted by the fact that even though he was just a few feet away when his daughter was killed, “I wasn’t there to stop it.”

His daughter, Bethany, and her husband, Rob, had moved to Texas from Pennsylvania in the summer of 2012 for a fresh start. Bethany asked her father and his longtime girlfriend, Ellen, to join them in Texas. Since Chomitzky was close to his grandson, they agreed.

The boy is being called “John” in this story because Chomitzky asked that he not be identified.

When Rob and Bethany couldn’t work out their differences, the couple separated. Bethany, 33, and John lived with Chomitzky and Ellen.

Chomitzky knew the separation had been tense but didn’t learn until later that Bethany was “deathly afraid” of her estranged husband. After Rob moved out, she wanted the locks changed so he couldn’t drop by unexpectedly. She switched phone companies to avoid Rob’s constant calls, but Chomitzky didn’t know Rob waited for her after work so often that she transferred to another location. Bethany sought a protective order but didn’t tell Chomitzky why.

“I wish she would have told me more,” he said. “I might have been more cautious.”

John was in the backyard playing with a friend when his father came to get his mother’s signature on some legal papers that day.

Chomitzky was breading chicken in the kitchen for dinner when Rob shot Bethany behind the ear, then shot himself.

Counseling helps, but Chomitzky struggles with his own grief while trying to be there for John.

He worries because sometimes “I see his dad’s behavior in him.” John likes to hit him, he said, so his counselor suggested he buy a punching bag.

Not long ago John had been playing “cops and robbers” with other little boys, when he ran to his grandfather and “shot” him in the forehead with his thumb and forefinger.

Two years ago that wouldn’t have bothered Chomitzky, who is a gun enthusiast. This time it “really freaked me out,” he said. “He has no idea the connection that made for me.”

John talks about his mom, Chomitzky said, but rarely mentions his father. Chomitzky suspects John does that because Chomitzky initially responded to such comments with silence.

But counselors told him that “children tend to identify with their parents, so ‘if Daddy’s bad, that means I’m bad,’” Chomitzky said. So he tries to say something good about Rob when pressed.

“It’s really hard,” Chomitzky acknowledged. “But I feel I have to.”

Chomitzky wonders when and what to tell John about how his parents died.

Not long ago the boy asked, “Why did they die just filling out papers?”

“We will never ever know the real, true reason,” Chomitzky replied. “All we know is it’s tragic.”

Blood and brains spattered all over the dining room. As Chomitzky wailed, “No, no, no,” and punched a hole in the wall in anger, the boys ran into the house.

John “saw his mom,” Chomitzky said. “He didn’t see his dad right away.”

Chomitzky sent the boys upstairs.

That night, John stayed with a friend; the next day he went to day care. “We tried to keep his routine as normal as possible,” Chomitzky said.

Maintaining normalcy is hard. Even though the crime scene was cleaned by a forensic service, John “used to go to the chair where his mom died when he was upset,” Chomitzky said.

Chomitzky said sometimes he still detects a slaughterhouse smell when he passes the room. He would like to move but doesn’t know if it’s a good idea to take John away from his friends and school.

The past year has drawn the two of them closer, but he’s still not sure how his grandson feels. “Outwardly he seems happy,” he said. “But most people who see me think I seem happy too. I can’t see inside his head.”

How to help a child after a domestic violence homicide

• Place the child with other family members in a stable home. Shuttling a child between relatives or foster care can be traumatic.

• One steady person, not necessarily the caregiver, who stays in touch with the child on a regular basis provides a much-needed anchor.

• If a child wants to talk about what happened to their parent, let him do so. Silence is more traumatic.

• Don’t make negative remarks about the killer. He or she is related to the child in some way, and the child may feel the comments pertain to him as well.

• Find a counselor for the child and the caregiver who is trained to deal with trauma cases.

• Counseling as an adult is helpful.

Read the full article at Dallasnews.com.

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