Book Review: To Cause a Death: the aftermath of an accidental killing - by Kelly Connor, Clairview Books, 2004, pps. 187, 9.95

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer

While my review falls short in showing the extreme depth of the author's mental suffering by causing the death of another, I believe Kelly Connor's writings succeed in doing so. The author is rightfully incredulous that her mother did not realize the enormity of the psychological suffering she had endured and was to endure because of the car accident and of her need to confront the experience.

Born in England, her family moved to Australia when she was 11. She returned to England in her forties. To Cause a Death, allows us to accompany the author's emotional experiences after having caused the death of an elderly woman at a pedestrian crossing. Her family was supportive, but the support offered was of denial as they avoided approaching the subject in any way. The topic's presence did result in family changes but there was no acknowledgment that the accident had happened. The author needed to talk about her guilt, about her feelings of responsibility for running over the elderly woman but had to stuff her shame and guilt which had calamitous results. After two mental hospital admissions, one the result of a suicide attempt by drug overdose, she slowly begins to function once again.

On one occasion, after the accident, she took LSD. The results were visions of cars which temporarily became very fearful objects. Even getting into them, was for a while, impossible. She developed no insights as a result of the psychedelic and because of its scary effects decided never to take LSD again. There was to be another instance in the future where she was to unintentially and unwillingly flirt with another therapy which had the potential of resolving her post traumatic stress syndrome, but unfortunately was also to come to naught.

[ LSD psychotherapy might have been successful if Connor's experiment had been led and continued by a knowledgable LSD therapist. According to psychiatrist, Stanislav Grof, a pioneer in the use of LSD as a form of psychotherapy, "bad trips" in LSD signify that important material has been accessed but which have not been worked through (resolved). More recent, single-event traumatic neuroses, of the type which the author experienced, are especially easy to resolve because of LSD's characteristics as an abreactive agent. Unfortunately, because of widespread abuse by non-professionals, all use of psychedelic drugs, therapeutic or recreational, became illegal in the late sixties.]

The accident had made her feel a member of the "shrouded world of the dead..." as very soon she began experiencing a series of nightmares which had as their locale a cavern-like area in which opposing beneficient and evil spiritual forces began intellectually sparing for her soul (p. 41). Entities were fighting over which group should possess and punish her because she had caused a death.

The repressed memories of the traumas of her birth and of her early family environment were being used to torment her during sleep . At least, that is my interpretation. The unnerving events continued to occur frequently. A meticulous moral examination of her activities of that particular day were being conducted during her nightmares and were being found wanting. Besides the terror they caused at night, she was also being made to reflect upon each action of that day preceding the night terror. The author soon determined that its forces was comprised of angels and demons. In time she became more able to defend her daily actions to the forces which judged her.

As a child she had already been "visited" by an angelic being but could not understand any connection between that event and her nightly trials. Kelly began to acquire the ability of discerning "energy forces" and "invisible beings" around her. However, she had rejected religion at age 12 when she declared herself to be an atheist, and now she questioned her right to be alive -"Do I have the right to continue living now that I have caused a death?" She judged herself unworthy of life.

Interestingly, she tells the reader how she was physically held back during birth. (The cavern dreams?) She seemingly insightfully relates the unfortunate auto accident she had with her birth experience as she was trying to push her way into an understanding of another world - another dimension of life, while her mother defiantly wanted to hold her back. A Note on the Author at the beginning of the book mentions that Kelly Connor "had begun a pattern that would be her signature: constant movement." Her "nomadic life" in both Australia and England easily lends itself to be interpreted as symptomatic of someone who was held back during birth.

She telephoned a religion-oriented counselor but the advice she received made her feel even more isolated from the world. How, as an atheist since the age of 12, could she go to church and ask for God's forgiveness? Her emotional problems continued as no one seemed to want to talk to her about the huge emotional pain from which she was suffering. The author naturally felt isolated and even the spirtual episodes which she had earlier experienced as a child, due to her upbringing, could not be shared - even with a priest.

She decided to see a psychiatrist. After all, she thought, it was their job to listen to their patients. He listened but when he began speaking it was about her entering a mental hospital. But as she writes, her sojourn in hospital turned out to be a step in the wrong direction.

There, she had the opportunity to explore her early family dynamics, but that all seemed irrelevant as her mind was on her more important existential subjects, such as, "Am I worthy to go on living? Must I offer some recompense for the life I took? Was the 'trial' in the ravine-like cave still going on without my knowledge? Is my soul in the hands of the angels or the demons? Why am I not in prison? When will the police realize their mistake and come arrest me?" (p. 88)

She felt that she needed permission to feel guilt about what she had done. She needed to speak to the accident victim. She went along with the powers that were over her, but the hospital personnel were furious because she had hidden herself from them and had not known that she was contemplating suicide in a cemetery adjacent to the hospital grounds. They had been thrown off track because she was becoming a model patient and it did not seem that Kelly was actually preparing for her own death. She felt that she would only be giving up her soul and would return to the ravine cave and be amongst the angels whom she hopefully felt might be on her side.

When discovered, after her suicide attempt by drugs, she had no pulse and was not breathing. After being resisitated from death's door, she had no appreciation that her life had been saved. But she did know what would be needed to be discharged from the hospital, so she soon followed the script and played the contrite model patient; she said she realized that she had made a big mistake and thus contrived her release.

After her first child was born, Kelly Connor, became motivated to enroll in a course of instruction to become a childbirth educator (CEA). The course was offered in Melbourne, home of the well known primal-oriented therapist and psychiatrist, Graham Farrant. One requirement for the childbirth educators was to attend a number of his therapy sessions. The author wrote that after she learned that the therapy involved reliving aspects of one's birth, she was completely turned off and disinterested. On the day of the first group sessions, and after he had presented a guided fantasy, Dr. Farrant had asked if anyone had comments they wished to share.

After some shared their feelings and insights uncovered by the exercise, the psychiatrist turned to Kelly and asked 'And what about you? For someone looking so smug, you havn't had much to say.' After some additional sarcastic remarks, he asked, her '...who it really was that you wanted to kill.'

Kelly felt she had been set-up. Farrant continued, 'There is no such thing as an accidental killing.' He went on, 'Every so-called accident is actually an opportunistic killing that occurs when we unexpectedly find ourselves in a situation where we can do what we've always wanted to do. Where we can fulfill our wish to kill somebody. What I'm asking you to do now, is to identify who it was you really wanted to kill.'

Kelly adamantly told Dr. Graham Farrant that he was wrong and that she did not want to kill anyone. Farrant then identified the victim as an older woman and said, 'Then it was probably your mother you wanted to kill. Did you see a momentary flash of your mother just before the impact?' She replied with an emphatic 'No' as she was now feeling sickened by his uncomfortable needling accusations.

The psychiatrist shot back, 'I don't believe you. Look at you, you're a mess. Not feeling so smug now are you.'

Completelly losing her cool while shaking and crying, she thundered, 'You can't talk to me like this. This is slanderous. I'll get you struck off for this.'

Kelly knew with certainty that Graham was wrong, but his attacking remarks had somehow resonated with her - she felt that he had stumbled onto some element of truth. She had wanted to sue but "...the thought of exposing all the complications around the accident that (she) put off proceeding; as well as the fact that the CEA announced the cancellation of future primal scream sessions." (p. 133)

The exchange between Dr. Farrant and the author was quite de rigueur in the early days of primal-oriented therapies. Presently, less confrontational (hard busts) types of exchanges are used by therapists to help the client connect with her subconscious mind and release the repressed early trauma for processing. For an interesting discussion of the two types of techniques which are used, see, Natural vs. Directive Primal Therapy by Harry Ristad.

There were other interesting recountings which relate to the author's birth and the birth of her daughter, Meegan, but the review is already long, so I will bring it to a close.

At age 37, the author, after reading a daily meditation, felt an urge to commit the time required for a 40 day spiritual retreat. While looking at her calendar to justify the impossibility of spending that much time away from home, she discovered that the last day of the retreat coincided with the 20th anniversary of the accident! It was then that she realized that she had to attend the retreat. She felt deeply that it was the God of God Calling, her daily retreat book who was urging her to attend the retreat. However, news reached her that her brother was critically ill.

He died on what would have been the 38th day of her retreat - his funeral was on the 41st day. There had been family discord about his being euthanized, but the author writes that it had been like other parts of Kelly's family history - something not to be talked about.

Kelly Connor's website