Caring Currents

Nancy Kerrigan's Family Tragedy: When Rage and Violence Erupt Between Generations

Last updated: Feb 09, 2010


I don't want to violate the Kerrigan family's privacy anymore than it's already been violated, so I hesitated to write about this. But I also know that those of us in the world of family caregiving can't help but follow the Kerrigan family tragedy with deep compassion -- and with a perspective that's probably different from that of the public at large.

From our vantage point as family caregivers, we know all too well the incredibly complex bonds that can link generations of a family when adult children care for aging parents or, as in this case, when one poorly functioning adult child demands continued obligations and care from aging parents who are also trying to care for each other.

And we know how volatile emotions can get -- and how desperate families become -- when the demands on the caregiver exceed what he or she can reasonably be expected to provide.

The absolute truth in this case can be known only to those who were there. But we do know that the Kerrigan parents, clearly very loyal, responsible, and upright people, chose to house their adult son after he got out of prison on charges involving domestic violence.

And we know that figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, even more famous than the average silver medalist for surviving a previous episode of violence, was a devoted daughter (and mother of three) who lived close to her parents and helped her father care for her mother, who is legally blind.

And we know that her brother, Mark Kerrigan, attacked his father in a drunken rage when his father tried to stop him from making a phone call, presumably a choice made out of a desire to protect his son from getting in more trouble.

Yesterday came the formal announcement that Nancy's father, Daniel Kerrigan, died of a heart attack resulting from being strangled by his son, and that Mark Kerrigan will likely be charged with manslaughter, or even murder.

From our perspective as family caregivers, we can imagine only too well what Nancy Kerrigan and her mother are going through today.

It's hard to talk about rage and violence; they're not pretty emotions. But they happen when families are under pressure. And trying to take care of one another can put strains and pressures on a family like nothing else. Throw in alcoholism or addiction, and you've put a brew of ingredients into the pressure cooker that's even more volatile. I know from personal experience of family alcoholism that the irrationality that happens when a family member is under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs can make people behave in ways they'd never behave otherwise.

So as caregivers, let's not rush to judge, but instead extend our sympathies, prayers, and hugs to Nancy Kerrigan, her mother, Brenda, and yes -- even to her brother Mark, now in prison. We know what it's like to be in that pressure cooker, and we feel for them.

Please feel free to share your thoughts arising from this tragedy. And if alcoholism or addiction is making things tough in your family, I hope our resources on alcoholism and addiction can be helpful.