The psychology of grief: Will Hannah Leflar's parents ever find peace?

Regina teen Hannah Leflar was stabbed to death by an ex-boyfriend on January 2015 and two years later her parents say they will never live a normal life again.
Janet with Hannah in P.E.I. in 2014 during their last vacation together. (submitted by Janet Leflar)

Regina teen Hannah Leflar was stabbed to death by an ex-boyfriend on January 2015 and two years later her parents say they will never live a normal life again.

Hannah's stepfather Wade Anderson found her dead and face down on the floor of his room when he came home from work on Jan. 12. The shock and horror of those moments continues to cause immense pain.

The loss itself is always going to be horrifying.- Bridget Klest, associate professor of psychology at the University of Regina 

"It's been a living hell, trying to get some kind of semblance of normalcy, and we can't," Hannah's mother Janet Leflar said in June 2017.

Associate professor of psychology at the University of Regina Bridget Klest said losing a loved one causes a great amount of grief, but when the loved one dies in a traumatic and violent way, coping becomes more difficult.

"I think that for a lot of people, dealing with a loss like this, what ends up helping most is time," she said. 
Janet Leflar and her husband Wade Anderson hold their daughter Hannah's last school photo. (CBC)

Since her daughter's murder, Janet said she severed some of her relationships because of the grief she now suffers. She's also been unable to work since the day of the killing.

Klest said it can be difficult for family members to focus on anything but their grief after a traumatic death.

"The loss itself is always going to be horrifying," said Klest. "Right now, the family is understandably going to be extremely focused on this loss and it takes a long time for this focus to change. But it's necessary to expand the focus a little bit and think about things besides just the trauma, the loss and the violence, in order to cope."

Klest said this could be done through spending time with people they care about, doing things they enjoy and honouring the memory of their loved one in a positive way. 

For now, the family is still spending time in Regina court, which Janet said is like ripping off a Band-Aid each time.

Moving on is hard to do

On Wednesday, a judge will decide if the now 19-year-old who killed their daughter will receive a youth or adult sentence. He pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in April 2016.

A youth sentence would keep him behind bars for six years, while an adult sentence would have him locked up for at least 10.

The family says their sentence is much longer.

"You can't go forward, you can't go back, you're in limbo," Hannah's father Jeff Leflar said. "We've been given a life sentence."

As part of the killer's hearing in May, 12 victim impact statements were read from friends and family.

Janet told the court she lives with anxiety about being in the home where Hannah was killed.
Hannah's parents say the death of their daughter is a life sentence. (Submitted by Janet Leflar)

Hannah's aunts and grandparents said they feel tortured and endure sleepless nights thinking about what happened to her.

Whether they will ever shake these feelings and begin functioning in society again can't really be predicted, according to  Klest.

"Something like this is pretty extreme so it takes more to get through it than being in a car accident, which can be horrifying...but does not lead to the same kind of difficulty coping as a violent act does," she said. "I think it is possible to get to a point of functioning.

"I think it is also important not to rush anyone into trying to become functional or coping better when they're not really at that place."

Kleft said when it comes to comforting someone who is grieving, the right thing or wrong thing to say depends on the individuals involved. She said it's important not to pretend the trauma didn't happen and it's a good idea to ask the grieving person what to do to be supportive.

"I think a lot of times people are afraid of saying the wrong thing so they don't say anything but that can just serve to isolate the family or anyone who's affected by this and isolation is not helpful," she said.

Dealing with grief when the loss of a loved one occurs due to violence

6 years ago
Duration 5:18
One Regina family is dealing with the loss of their 16-year-old daughter, Hannah after she was killed in the family home in January 2015.

With files from Jill Morgan and Adam Hunter