Sheilah A. Doyle was a loving mother and wife who worked hard to help support her family. She encouraged her three children – Kelly, Kevin, and Kristin – to reach for their dreams, as she always reached for her own. Their home was filled with love and bright hopes for the future.
One night, as Sheilah was returning from her shift as a nurse, three men she did not know followed her home and murdered her in order to steal the hood of her car. This one night and one senseless act of violence rocked the Doyle family to the core.
The kids were young at the time, but this was nearly 20 years ago. Kelly, Kristin, and Kevin are now adults, and have formed the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation in memory of their mother. Their foundation offers assistance to children who have been impacted by the murder of a parent or sibling. They have joined forces with Comfort Zone Camp to offer a weekend camp experience to children and teens touched by homicide. They have made a conscious choice to use their experience to help others.
How did three children grieve the loss of their mother? And as adults, how did they move forward to a place of healing? The family was kind enough to answer some questions about their loss, in hopes of providing support and validation to other young people who are facing homicide losses in their own lives.
How old were you when your mom was murdered?
Kelly: I was 19 years old.
Kevin: I was 17. It was the summer before my senior year of high school.
Kristin: I was 8 Years Old
Do you remember who told you/how you found out?
Kelly: Yes, I was with my father in the family room of our home, when the Cook County Sheriff told us that there was a crime scene in the garage and that my mom was found dead in the trunk of her car.
Kevin: My dad was the one that broke the news to me. I remember that morning well. I was going down the stairs to take a shower. As I looked I saw all my close relatives sitting in our dining room. My dad was standing at the bottom of the stairs crying. He told me that my mom passed away last night. I immediately thought: “maybe it was a car accident on her way home for work or something.” When he told me that she was murdered in our family’s garage and was found in the trunk of the car I immediately went back up to my room and stayed there for the remainder of the day. It did not feel real…I thought she was on vacation and that she would be back. It was a very hard day.
Kristin: I remember that day as if it happened yesterday. My dad came home from the police station in the morning. He sat at our kitchen table, sat me on his lap and said, “Your mom passed away.” I remember thinking to myself that meant I will never see my mother again. I immediately felt numb and could not believe this was happening to our family.
What was it like to go back to school after your mom’s murder?
Kelly: It was difficult to return to work and school with everyone staring and not knowing what to say. More people avoided me or the subject trying to spare my feelings or because it was too uncomfortable to talk about. What I really needed to do was talk about it to start the long healing process. I felt all alone. Yes, I still had my family, but we all were experiencing the same loss at different levels and all dealing with it differently.
Kevin: I felt alone. Murder was very unfamiliar within our community. When I went into school students immediately identified me by my loss. I felt like no one understood. The only thing that kept me going was my football team. At the beginning of the season they insisted that we wear wristbands with the initials “SAD” and dedicate the season to my mom. To this date, our varsity team in 1994 is still the team that has gone further than any other team in the history of our school. We made it to the semi-final round of the state playoffs. I know she helped to make that happen.
Kristin: I was going into 3rd grade after the summer it happened. Looking back on it now I had a good support system of friends. Being 8 years old it was about surrounding myself with them, playing and doing activities helped take my mind off of things.
Has the loss of your mother brought you closer to anyone?
Kelly: Yes, it has brought me closer to my siblings. We have learned over the years how to support one another and work together to bring the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation to the success it is today. I am lucky to have Kevin and Kristin as my siblings, without them it would have been a much harder road in the healing process.
Kevin: Yes, it’s brought me closer to my mother. The football experience I had made me feel that she was still here, still with me. It was a positive experience that happened to me right after the tragedy. Since then I have had many experiences where I feel like she is working through me and my sisters. The foundation we created in her honor is an example of this.
Kristin: The loss of my mother has brought me closer to my family. It took a long time to get to this point, but since starting the Sheilah A. Doyle Foundation my family and I have bonded closer together than ever.
What do you say to people who tell you to “get over it” or “move on with your life?”
Kelly: Homicide loss is not something you “get over.” You learn coping skills along the way to get you through the tough times.
Kevin: I agree, this is something that you will never get over. It is a part of you for the rest of your life. It’s a part of your story. You can choose to do one of two things. Let the tragedy be the reason why nothing ever goes right in your life or make it the fuel that drives your success. I chose the second.
Kristin: No one going through a loss will ever “get over it.” I know that there are times in my life especially milestones that the pain will resurface. I always have in the back of my mind that she is here with me smiling down.
What one thing has helped you the most in your grief and healing?
Kelly: I think the thing that has helped me the most in the healing process is being able to tell our story to as many people that will listen without judgment. Something I have learned about telling our story is that it does get easier every time but it also made it easier to deal with the reality that my Mom was a victim of homicide and that even though she is not physically here, I know she is here in spirit and always watching over us.
Kevin: Starting the foundation. It has helped me in my own healing process. Helping others while helping me put some definition around why this tragedy happened to our family. The foundation has brought a purpose to my life!!
Kristin: Journaling was a great tool for me. I have even saved my journals and read them from time to time to reflect. I feel better knowing how much I have grown.
What advice would you give to a young person facing a homicide loss?
Kelly: Surround yourself with supportive, positive people. Don’t be afraid of what other people might think. Have faith in yourself that even though this horrible tragedy has affected you and your family you will still be able to move forward and follow your dreams. And most importantly keep telling your story to whoever will listen.
Kevin: Don’t give up! Keep telling your story because when you open up you have the ability to change other people’s lives.
Kristin: It is okay to grieve. It is okay to feel thousands of emotions going through a traumatic death of a loved one. Somehow finding a way to share your story helps. Talking with a friend, family member, or journaling, whatever way works best for you are some healthy ways to get it out. There are many victims out there just like you and me, there is a sense of comfort knowing we are not alone.
If you could go back in time and tell the younger you one thing, what would it be?
Kelly: This is going to be a long hard road ahead but have faith in yourself that you will get through it.
Kevin: You will never get over it. However, don’t let your tragedy define you…..instead, keep a positive attitude and use your story as the fuel behind your success.
Kristin: There will be a time in your life that you realize you just don’t “get over it.” Grieving is a process that can take on so many different types of emotions at different parts of your life and it is okay to feel these feelings. Always know your mom is surrounding you. Be open to the signs in your life that she may give you. She may not be here physically but she is here to guide you spiritually. She would want you to take the right path in life. We are all human and sometimes can fall of that path. Don’t get down on yourself, just pick yourself back up and get back on the track.
Many thanks to Kelly, Kevin, and Kristin for sharing their thoughts so openly. To read the family’s entire story, visit The Sheilah A. Doyle website.