Coping With the Murder of a Loved One

May 30, 2019 Updated: May 30, 2019

Losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare, but having a child taken away is something else entirely. A loving son was killed, and his father found writing as a way to cope with his son’s murder.

Ryan McCall was a 21-year-old college senior when he was walking home from a friend’s birthday party in Tampa, Florida. Tragically, Ryan was murdered during the early morning hours of Aug. 19, 2009 after being shot twice during an attempted robbery on his way home.

Ryan’s father Kevin was pouring himself a cup of coffee when he heard a knock on the door at about 7:15 a.m. He opened the front door to find three police officers outside.

Initially, the news didn’t quite sink in. Kevin was concerned about explaining what had happened to Ryan to the family.

“The actual murder part kind of hits you, but you’re not really sucking that all into you yet. You know he’s gone. You don’t believe it and I’m sure at that point you’re in shock, but I knew that I had to overcome that shock period because there were other people to be taken care of that day,” Kevin told The Epoch Times.

Coping and Grief

The McCall family flew up to their original hometown outside of Philadelphia and had Ryan’s funeral. It wasn’t until the family returned to Florida that reality began to sink in for Kevin.

Kevin went through sadness, anger, and grief after losing Ryan. Moreover, he felt compelled to be present as a father and husband for his family.

Kevin began writing the same morning he was informed of Ryan’s murder. Initially, the writing consisted of a practical to-do list.

The McCall family
The last family photo of the McCalls before Ryan McCall’s murder. (Courtesy of the McCall Family)

After visiting a victim advocate counselor with his wife, the counselor suggested they start writing things down to help answer questions and formulate questions for her. He initially thought his wife Joanne would be doing most of the writing.

“I’m the one that just started writing, most of the time just on paper, pieces of paper in the mornings. And then eventually my wife went and bought some journals and said ‘Here, instead of wasting paper start using these,'” Kevin said.

Kevin began writing about where he was at emotionally, and how he was going to help himself so that he would be able to help his family. He would also write down the date of his writings.

“Some days it was anger. Some days it was battling myself from getting into very deep depression because after that you do get into depression,” Kevin explained.

Communication and Expression

He wrote about Ryan’s funeral at length, and also began writing about the process of the investigation and trial of Ryan’s killer.

He also found himself anxious as he was the conduit between the police and his family. Sometimes he had good news, other days he had bad news, and some days he had no news to relay.

Kevin and Joanne
Kevin and Joanne McCall in December 2018. (Courtesy of the McCall family)

“Our communication level wasn’t there anymore. It was almost like we were talking generically to each other,” Kevin said. “Even talking about Ryan, very rarely did we even bring his name up.”

Writing kept Kevin on an even path where he could still handle daily life. When he wrote, he was able express and relieve the stress and anxiety he was experiencing at the moment.

Expecting Emotions

It would be three years before Ryan’s killer was brought to trial, which Kevin also wrote about. He expected to feel certain emotions, but discovered that he didn’t always feel the way he expected to.

“Getting to the trial was probably one of the hardest things to do for us all,” Kevin explained.

For instance, Kevin anticipated feeling happy when Ryan’s killer was arrested. However, he found that the arrest was just another chapter in the aftermath of Ryan’s murder.

The grandchildren
Kevin and Joanne McCall with their grandchildren. (Courtesy of the McCall family)

He also found that knowing the identity of his son’s killer made him familiar with him, and made Kevin wonder how he could have killed his son.

“Seeing the defendant for the first time, the one who is accused of murdering your son, you also thought ‘Okay now you have a face,’ but then that created more anxiety on you because now you know the person,” Kevin explained.

Kevin discovered that as much as he thought the trial was about his family, it was more about the state versus the accused.

Taking Care of Each Other

Kevin had to prepare himself for either a conviction or an acquittal, and no matter the verdict their son had still been taken from them.

“At the end of the trial we all cried. It wasn’t joyous. It was more of, okay this part’s over. Let’s go home and hope we can fix each other,” Kevin explained.

The McCall family will never forget Ryan, but everyone is doing well. Kevin’s daughter is now married with two children, and his son is married as well. Kevin continues to write, and published his writings in a book entitled “For the Love of Family: How a Knock at the Door Changed Everything.”

“After all these years we’re doing well,” Kevin said. “But that pain is always there when certain things happen.”

The grandchildren
Kevin and Joanne McCall have two grandchildren. (Courtesy of the McCall family)

Kevin knows that everyone grieves differently, but he encourages family members who have lost a loved one to grieve in their own way, and to respect each others’ processes without trying to understand them.

“Just be there, and be understanding for each one, and continue to offer your love, and hugs, and things like that,” Kevin explained.

He also suggests that families seek counseling because even if they don’t think they need it, they do. In fact, Kevin believes counseling saved his marriage. No matter what, Ryan’s death will always be a part of the McCall family’s life.

“You’re doing really well, but you never get away from it,” Kevin said.

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