Murder-Suicide and the Meaning of Mercy

Murder-Suicide and the Meaning of Mercy

Here is a link to this weekend’s readings.

shutterstock_221190589Last weekend, I went with a friend to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the hyped-up fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor. In the tenth round, McGregor, a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter and not a professional boxer, was clearly exhausted after coming out strong. Mayweather pounced and would have knocked him out if the referee hadn’t called the fight and declared Mayweather the winner by technical knockout. Mayweather retired after the fight with an unprecedented 50-0 record.

I don’t usually watch fighting. I’m not much of a fighter myself, though I like to think I’m well prepared and ready to fight if I ever needed to defend someone else. In all my life, I have only been in one fight, when I was attacked as a teenager by an opponent after I stole the ball in a pick-up game of basketball in the church gymnasium. That fight was basically a draw before it was broken up.

We live in a violent world. Sometimes that violence can be broken up. Sometimes it can be contained and regulated and turned into sport. Unfortunately, it all-too-often erupts chaotically, leaving destruction and misery in its wake. That is the case with a murder-suicide that I have been reflecting on this past month. If the details of a deadly case of domestic violence will disturb you, skip over the next paragraph.

“Love Over Tragedy” is the headline of the story in The Berkshire Eagle (you can read it here, although the digital version of the story changes the headline, unfortunately, to “Love and Tragedy.”) According to the report, “Celeste Kordana, 39, died of blunt force trauma to the back of her head in the couple’s… home in Pittsfield, [Massachusetts].” Her husband of 14 years, “John Kordana, 53, died of asphyxiation and loss of blood.” The family believes, and the evidence seems to indicate, that John took Celeste’s life before ending his own. “An investigation into the deaths remains open, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office said Tuesday [August 1st]. John’s injuries were determined to be self-inflicted. The DA’s office said last week it does not believe a third party was involved.”

In an insightful observation, Blaise Pascal is said to have noted, “Comprendre, c’est pardonner” (“To understand is to forgive.”) This seems to be the case in the Kordana tragedy. Despite the alleged murder of their daughter, Celeste’s family holds no animosity towards John. Instead, they Suicide Prevention Hotlinebelieve that mental illness stole the man they all loved. “Robert Wibby, Celeste’s father, acknowledges people are surprised by the couple’s compassion for John… [but Robert explains,] ‘The John I knew died inside sometime before that. It wasn’t him any more.’”

“Like his father, Celeste’s younger brother Benjamin Wibby believes John changed radically after suffering a breakdown that led to his hospitalization June 14… ‘The last time I saw John he was already dead inside. He was a walking corpse. He was a completely different man,’ Wibby said. ‘John was not a monster. He was a wonderful man who dealt with a horrible mental illness.’”

The family of Celeste is determined not to live in anger. “’It doesn’t do any good to be angry with John,’ said Stella Wibby, Celeste’s mother.” “Like his parents, [Benjamin] Wibby is determined not to be ruled by anger over the losses. ‘I truly believe that bitterness can rot away at your heart and your soul and your being until there is nothing left,’ he said.” Moreover, they have not let the tragedy overshadow the love and the family connection. There was “One wake, one funeral service, one receiving line” and “Both sides of the family gathered to prepare the couple’s obituaries.” Bill Loehr, the funeral director said it well: “I think they ought to be commended for what they are doing… They’re a very spiritual family with a deep faith in God and religion. With faith we forgive and move on.”

In a letter to the editor also signed by his wife, Robert Wibby wrote, “Try to remember this: ‘Judge not, lest you be judged,’ – Matthew 7:1.” They acknowledge that something happened to John that changed him mentally. “Trust me: John’s image as a good man was the real deal… Only God knows what happened that day.” In very moving words, they conclude their letter expressing nothing but love and loss: “In any case, when Celeste and John got married, my wife and I didn’t lose a daughter; we gained a son. And when they died, we lost a daughter and a son.”

shutterstock_502486078The world is afflicted by violence. When Jesus set out for his final journey to Jerusalem, Peter tried to stop him and protect him from the violence of this world. Jesus would have nothing of it. He came to embrace our humanity fully, with love, even to death. And as he breathed his last, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus tells us that we, too, have to take up our crosses and follow him. Fortunately, even in the midst of terrible violence, we have witnesses like the Wibby family who radiate God’s grace in a broken world. “Family members say they hope the joint service sends a message of reconciliation. They want it to raise awareness about mental illness.” It also sends a powerful theological and spiritual message. “The violence of their deaths will not part John and Celeste Kordana.” I cannot help but think of Christ and our sinful and broken humanity that ended his life. The violence of his death did not part him from us either. It really is love over tragedy. As the Wibby family has demonstrated in the most awful of violent circumstances, Love always has the last—and lasting—word.

1Comment
  • Marion Collins
    Posted at 18:48h, 07 September

    Kevin, thank you for your tender and compassionate telling of the tragic death of Celeste Wibby Kordana and her husband John. I did not know John but Celeste was a ray of sunshine and goodness when I first came to know her at Vacation Bible School and remained so as a young woman. It truly is an account of love over tragedy as we mourned with Celeste’s grief sticken parents, Bob and Stella, brother Ben and John’s brother Bill and family.
    Throughout this loss there was never any blame or animosity but a tragedy ascribed to John’s recent hospitalization for mental illness.
    It is something I doubt I will ever forget as I attended the Wake and Funeral where thei caskets were placed side by side at the Funeral Home and at St. Agnes Church.
    As Bob said in his eulogy, “it is a tragic loss”, Stella and I lost a daughter and a son-they loved each other in life and should be together in death. There was an overwhelming feeling of love and forgiveness amongst the Congregation which left no room for blame or anger. It was God among us in the persons of these Families leading us with absolute certainty that Celeste and John were in the loving arms of God!
    Celeste and Ben were close in age and affection. He mourned the loss of his sister and friend John as he spoke about the great need to talk about Mental Illness so help can be obtained without shame or blame.
    At the Funeral Liturgy, I was in awe of the communal nature of prayers for both victims. We too, felt the absolute forgiveness of these families, leaving no room for blame -only sorrow for the losses. Our hearts went out to these Faith-filled Families. Never have I felt such real depth of Forgiveness motivated by the Love of God.
    Kevin, your tie with the Readings of the Day were eloquent, reminding us of the Love and Forgiveness Jesus had for us as He hung upon the Cross. The same Love and Forgiveness he continues to have for us every day. He did not let Peter dissuade Him from going out into the World and we must follow Him in going out to our brothers and sister in need with Faith, forgiveness and love!
    Kevin, as I told you, I am privileged and honored to call the Wibby Family, my friends! Thank you for your compassion as we all mourn the loss of a beautiful young and loving woman and her troubled husband. What an incredible lesson we learned from their strong faith.
    Bayard, thank you for letting their Faith and Love be told through Kevin’s sensitive blog.