Tragic final months of anguished mum
THE e desolate and relentless grief that consumed Olga Edwards over the past five months, in the wake of the brutal murder of her two children by their father, would have felt inescapable.
The 36-year-old had taken to sleeping in the beds once occupied by Jack, 15, and Jennifer, 13, and barely left the home in which they were killed.
In recent times, Ms Edwards spoke of feeling utterly hopeless and like she would never find meaning in her life again.
After shooting dead his own children while they cowered in a bedroom of the West Pennant Hills home on the afternoon of July 5, John Edwards took his own life.
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And in the end, from beyond the grave, he slowly murdered Ms Edwards too by inflicting on her an unspeakable horror. Her body was discovered yesterday, near where her children died.
"This is a woman who faced the obliteration of her family," Michael Salter, senior lecturer in criminology at the University of Western Sydney, told news.com.au.
"She left her husband and in retaliation he murdered both her children. It's apparent she found the loss so overwhelming. It's an absolutely devastating situation for anyone to face."
Those who work in the domestic violence space today say they feel a mix of horror and sadness, but also understanding.
Moo Baulch, the chief executive officer of the organisation Domestic Violence New South Wales, said it's unclear what more could've been to prevent Ms Edwards' death.
"Honestly, without knowing all of the circumstances, I strongly suspect that once she started to come to terms with the deaths of her children, Olga just decided she didn't want to live anymore," Ms Baulch said.
"I can understand that. It's utterly tragic but a completely understandable reaction to the loss of her children.
"We find it hard to talk about suicide in our community but I think there are many, many people right now who understand the complete hopelessness that she would've been feeling."
Filipa Alves-Costa from the University of Bath in Britain has researched trauma following the murder of a loved one and said the level of distress is often profound.
"They are more likely to develop traumatic stress responses alongside, or as a component of, their grief," Dr Alves-Costa said.
"After the traumatic death of a loved one, family and friends can suffer from physical and mental health issues, social and interpersonal difficulties, as well as financial economic problems arising from their own ability to work."
The "wilful and violent nature of the event" sparks potent feelings of anger, rage, disbelief and shock that can have a catastrophic impact, she said.
"Following the event they ask questions such as: 'What happened? Why has it happened? How did it happen? Will I move on?'"
Rosie Batty, who became a family violence spokesperson after her son Luke was murdered by his father in 2015, said she had spoken to Ms Edwards at length.
"I did feel with her a sense of hopelessness … I felt that it would not surprise me if she made that decision … I don't blame her and I understand - I deeply understand," Ms Batty told the Sydney Morning Herald last night.
"(Olga) would say to me, how do you find meaning in your life? How do you do that? She was very upset at that particular time, just reeling from the finality of everything."
Working in the domestic violence space, Dr Salter sees first-hand the unspeakable impact of the survivors of family murder tragedies.
Prior to losing her children, Ms Edwards was already dealing with immense trauma from the breakdown of the family unit. She was given primary custody of her teenage children, who were estranged from their father and seemingly feared him.
"The family separation for her was in and of itself incredibly traumatic. It's already a distressing and difficult scenario," Dr Salter said.
Following news of Ms Edwards' death, Ms Batty said it was yet another illustration of the "total failure" of the Family Court system and repeated her calls for a Royal Commission into its operations.
Ms Baulch said without the findings of a Coronial Inquest into the murders of Jack and Jennifer, it was difficult to comment on what could've been done different in this case.
"But it does look as if there's a lot more that could've been done. There may have been points it which this risk could've been identified earlier.
"I am utterly frustrated. The Family Court is one of the most horrific places, not just for women who've survived domestic violence, but for their children too."
Ms Baulch said progress was being made slowly, and in some areas more than others, but this tragedy demonstrates the enormity of the problem.
There are multiple levels of change that need to occur," she said. "We don't just need a system that's better funded, but much more flexible in its support."
After yet another tragedy, Dr Salter said it was important to look at the deaths of Ms Edwards and her children and learn from their losses.
"This is a huge problem right across the country. We shouldn't be naive about the scale of the problem that faces us, but it's far too early to feel hopeless.
"We need determination and an ongoing commitment to keep working on it until we bring it to an end. We do not have to accept these kinds of murders. We can stop them."
If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au or in an emergency, call 000
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