52 | Emotional Shock Waves

The “Emotional Shock Wave” is a network of underground “after-shocks” of serious life events that can occur anywhere in the extended family system in the months or years following serious emotional events in a family. It occurs most often after the death or threatened death of a significant family member. It operates on an underground network of emotional dependence of family members on each other…. The nature of the human phenomenon is such that [a family] reacts vigorously to any such implications of the dependence of one life on another.

In my work with families, I carefully use direct words, such as death, die, and bury, and I carefully avoid the use of less direct words, such as passed on, deceased, and expired…. The use of direct words helps to open a closed emotional system. Murray Bowen, Family Therapy in Clinical Practice

When interview[ing] the children of [Duane] Frye do not use the words “kill, murder or homicide” to describe the death of their mother.  ACSO Investigator Bruce Isaacson Progress Report 052306 on phone conference with FBI Behavioral Profiling Unit

We lost Betty over the weekend. She ran head-on into burglars. Duane Frye, 1973.

Murray Bowen studied how emotional shock waves affect family equilibrium. Any loss or addition to a family disturbs its equilibrium, and the intensity of the reaction depends partly on the functional significance of the member who is added or lost.

As physical losses, Bowen cites a kid going off to college or an adult child marrying and leaving home. Functional losses include a key family member becoming incapacitated by illness or injury which prevents him or her doing the work on which the family depends. The physical and functional loss of a parent creates a shock wave. Betty’s murder produced a tsunami.

Even before the murder, several events upset the family’s equilibrium. Doug left home twice: to go to college and to marry me. Duane left Martin Marietta, a decision that required Betty to shoulder the economic responsibility for the family. Betty’s significance to her kids on all levels made her death a catastrophic loss.

When emotional dependence on the person who died is denied, grief and mourning are cut off and the shock wave goes undergound. Symptoms range the physical gamut (from colds and first signs of chronic illness, to acute medical conditions) to the full emotional spectrum (mild depression to phobias and psychosis). Not long after the murder, Duane suffered a multi-organ breakdown. Doug’s mental breakdown followed.

In treating families after a death, Bowen described what happened with direct words. He also advocated having the most personal funeral service possible. The night before Betty’s funeral in Kansas, Duane met with the priest. The priest didn’t speak to Betty’s relatives. The most personal thing he said about Betty was that despite her many problems, she always managed to be kind.

In 1973, Duane’s children were required to attend his bail hearing as a show of support. When the DA sought to demonstrate the brutality of her murder by offering crime scene photos, Duane’s lawyer made us leave the courtroom in a show of outrage. We were props. The cone of silence Duane imposed controlled what we were told and deprived his kids of any tangible association with Betty’s death. It made her murder less real and set the stage for what followed.  

When saw Duane at The Red Lion Inn, his wedding band was gone. With it went any discussion of what really happened in the garage. The shock wave traveled underground for decades until the cold case drove it to the surface.

Did a shock wave in your life become a tsunami?

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