Loss, grief, pain of crime pour out at symposium

April 14, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

Before she said anything else, Nzinga Norman Bey asked her audience to forgive her in advance if she started crying. "What I want to talk about today is a very personal story," she said. "It is extremely sensitive to me and my family. I hope I can get through this. I hope I got it all out yesterday, when I was preparing for this."

Then, Ms. Norman Bey, a Baltimore resident, described how she had lost her fiance to murder on Sept. 30, 1992. A father to her four daughters, he was shot to death during an attempted robbery. She talked about the horror and confusion and pain that her family experienced and how they struggled over time to cope with the loss.

She said, "You feel crippled by pain."

She said, "I likened myself to a burn victim and your skin is burned away so that you cannot be touched because you are left wide open and unprotected."

And she said, "It is like you are in a black pit, a deep, dark pit of depression and despair. There were days when it was a challenge to me to even get out of bed."

But she also said, "Jesus says that the only way to deal with grief is to stretch out your hand and help somebody else dry their tears; to make your ministry of sorrow a ministry of joy. I did it through my daughters. I did it through working with children."

She was the first speaker yesterday at a symposium on the grief and loss associated with violent crime, held in Baltimore by the American Institute for Urban Psychological Services. The audience consisted of school children, crime victims and mental health professionals.

Ms. Norman Bey is a tall, elegant woman who shared her experiences in a strong, clear voice. And she never cried. But her presentation was so simple and straightforward, eloquent in its simplicity, devastating in its emotional intensity, that she held her audience spellbound.

We were in a small meeting room at the Baltimore Convention Center. Most of the city's major politicians were either late or had sent word that they would not be able to attend. In Washington, politicians were strutting about Capitol Hill, touting a new, get-tough, anti-crime bill that even supporters concede would have little or no impact on crime.

Yesterday's symposium was free of all of the smoke and bombast, the posturing and the pontificating in volved in our war on crime. For underneath all of the thunder lies a community in pain, a community that grieves, a community locked in a cycle where today's victim becomes tomorrow's victimizer. The loud talk never seems to address this pain.

"Our children are the primary victims," noted Dr. Grady Dale, president of the organization that held yesterday's symposium. "When lives are shattered, who will pick up the pieces? Who consoles them? Who listens, when they act out their bereavement? Who has the patience to listen to all of the cues of how our children really feel?"

Dr. Dale answered his own questions: "You will, that's who. This affects all of us. Our charge is to turn a community that grieves into a community that heals."

Ms. Norman Bey described herself as a victim who is healing. But she did not attribute her healing to the sort of solutions favored by politicians: mandatory sentences and longer terms and the swift and sure implementation of the death penalty.

Instead, she spoke of spiritual matters and of kinship and of reaching out to those in pain.

"The hardest thing for me was going before my children, dealing with their feelings, because I was in such pain," Ms. Norman Bey said.

She described how her 6-year-old daughter had nightmares about her father and how her 15-year-old began to do poorly in school; and just when all the mother's energy was focused on helping those two, her two older daughters -- both in their 20s -- revealed that they also had needs.

Ms. Norman Bey spoke of how her neighbors and family rallied to nurture her through her grief.

"We have to find whatever works," she said. "We have to listen. Be patient and creative. If you see someone in pain, figure out a way to help them, particularly if it is a child."

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