MUSCATINE, Iowa - The tragic death of a child is difficult to face, not only for the family, but also for the entire community.
Two-year-old Leeanna Garcia-Enriquez died Sunday of blunt-force trauma to the abdomen. Her mother's boyfriend, Angel Garcia-Miranda, has been charged with the first-degree murder of Leeanna and the willful injury of her 3-year-old sister, Breeanna Garcia-Enriquez.
"The murder of a child is the worst loss any human being can face," said Patrick Carrasco, a counselor at Family Resources. "It is very hard to deal with such a catastrophic loss, especially this close to Christmas, but people survive incredible losses."
Carrasco said the first year is always the worst, and as the years go by, special occasions such as birthdays and holidays may be difficult.
"There is no way out. You have to deal with it or depression would take over," Carrasco said.
Carrasco suggests survivors should talk to someone and says they need to understand that their feelings are OK.
"There is nothing wrong with crying," he said.
'Being there is what counts'
Betty Karkosh, a family therapist with New Dawn Counseling, said a child's death near Christmas compounds the grief from loss of a loved one.
"It can be so much harder," Karkosh said.
Karkosh noted that support by family and friends is most important.
"You don't have to have the right words," she said. "Being there is what counts."
Matt Peine, whose 5-year-old daughter, Jessica Faye was killed when she was struck by a car five years ago, just three houses from home, understands that concept.
"Just being there is the only thing to do," said Peine, who shows his support for other families who have lost children by attending their funerals.
Peine said he was "mush" for a month after his daughter's death, but one woman stands out in his memory.
"She said 'I know how you feel. I buried my son who died in Vietnam. Even though that was 30 years ago, I cry every day,'" Peine said. "Then she hugged me. I don't even know her name, but she gave me a glimpse of a little light at the end of the tunnel."
Sharon Tompkins, mother of Scott Tompkins, who was murdered in Muscatine nine years ago on Nov. 29, said her heart goes out to Leeanna's mother.
"I wish I could say something to help her," Tompkins said. "But there is nothing that can be said to ease her pain right now."
A friend in need …
Karkosh said it is often difficult to function when in shock.
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"Friends can help with daily tasks while the survivor's functioning level is minimized," Karkosh said. "Friends need to be aware that often a survivor can't remember things."
Tompkins describes her reaction to her son's death as shock and numbness.
Scott Tompkins' murderers have never been apprehended. His mother is grateful for the continued support she has from family and friends. She continues to seek information on her son's death.
Karkosh noted that it could be three to six months before the surviving family member realizes the fullness of the loss.
"After any death, there may be a lot of people around at first. Later, the loss can be greater, and it can be so lonely," she said. "Don't let down the support.
"Our society has an expectation that you should just get over it and get on with your life. It probably takes a minimum of two years before it is time when you need to move on."
Karkosh said everyone is different, but a person might need to seek professional counseling if he or she continues to be consumed with the loss for more than two years.
A community mourns
The Rev. Troy Richmond of SS Mary and Mathias Catholic churches will officiate at Leeanna's funeral on Thursday.
Although as a priest he has dealt with infant and child deaths, dealing with a murder is a new experience for him.
He said the Muscatine community, not just the family, is dealing with several types of grief: the actual trauma, the death of a child and the injuries sustained by Leeanna's older sister.
"It is a very complex type of grief," Richmond said. "There aren't too many words that can bring comfort. Faith can bring comfort. We believe that the child is with God in heaven and that gives us hope.
"I would hope that the community knows of the family's need and they would be generous and open their hearts and do something kind for the family. I encourage people to come out and show their support."
Contact Connie Street at:
Help for grieving
* Compassionate Friends of Muscatine meets at Geo. M. Wittich-Lewis Funeral Home, 2907 Mulberry Ave., Muscatine, at 2 p.m. the second Sunday of the month; call 563-263-8112 or toll free 866-263-8112 for more information
* Volunteers and Information (makes referrals) , 415 E. Second St., Muscatine; phone 563-263-0959.