Murder-Suicide and the Meaning of Mercy
Last 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 believe 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.”
The 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.