Hot car death: what does grief look like?

Photo Courtesy: CNN

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) – Ross and Leanna Harris have been under a microscope since the June death of their 22 month-old child, Cooper.  Ross Harris has been charged with murder and child cruelty after leaving Cooper in a hot car while he went to work for seven hours.  Investigators tell us Leanna has not been charged with any crime and that she is just part of the investigation.

However, from crime scene to courtroom, onlookers and law enforcement have been closely studying the couple for their reactions.  On the stand at Harris’ preliminary hearing, Detective Phil Stoddard recalled a conversation he heard between Leanna Harris and her mother.  “During this, she’s like, ‘Why aren’t you crying?  Why aren’t you reacting to this?’ She said, ‘I must be in shock.'”

Stoddard also recalled something he heard Ross Harris say shortly after he discovered his son’s lifeless body.  “He talked about losing his job, what am I going to do,” Stoddard says.  “I’m going to lose my job.  I’ll be charged with a felony.”

Statements like those have led legal observers to call the Harris family’s behavior since losing their son odd, and even bordering on suspicious.  It’s also been noted that Leanna Harris had very little visible reaction to details of her husband’s alleged sexting relationships with multiple women on the day of Cooper’s death.  Those examples have raised lots of questions for those who are closely following the case.  Specifically: is it possible that these are the reactions of grieving parents?

“Contrary to what’s popularly thought, there is no one correct way to grieve,” suggests Dr. Lee Keyes.  Neither Ross or Leanna has ever been a client of Keyes, who works as a grief counselor in Tuscaloosa.  He was not able to directly comment on the Harris case, but Keyes was able to offer us some insight into how differently people grieve.

He says that it’s impossible to judge a person’s response to grief, because it’s such a highly unique experience.  Shock is often, but not always, an aspect of the process.  “It can appear as though they are robotic,” Keyes says, “kind of going through the motions and not really feeling anything.”

Keyes says that the popular belief that there are 7 stages to grieving has also been largely debunked, and that people may experience all of the different stages, but there is no timeline or order.

(Copyright WIAT 42 News 2014)


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