I met Kristine Luken posthumously. She and a mutual friend, Kay Wilson, were victims of a terrorist attack in Israel in 2010. Miraculously, Kay survived. Upon meeting Kristine’s twin sister Kathleen, I felt like I was meeting an old friend.
Non-Israelis are not enveloped in the community as are other families of victims, nor are they remembered on Yom Hazikaron, Memorial Day, this week when Israel remembers nearly 24,000 soldiers and terror victims. Being outside Israel, families like Kristine’s are excluded. Not deliberately, just circumstantially.
“I’ve never met anyone who has lost a loved one to terrorism. I searched to find someone who could understand and relate (to my loss to) help me navigate these unchartered waters," Kathleen said.
Jewish mourning is based on a tradition of burying the deceased, then comforting the survivors. Being outside any community that embraces this routinely, Kathleen realizes that she’s missing something.
“My grief has been private. In Western culture, grief is (typically) private," she explained. "Sadly, you’re expected to 'get over it' and move on. Western culture, to our own fault, expects grievers to put on a happy face. (You need to get) back to work and to 'look' like you are OK…because 'they' feel uncomfortable with loss.”
With nearly 24,000 victims mourned in Israel, there are only two degrees of separation to someone who suffered loss. This creates community, and communal responsibility.
“Some friends helped. Many didn’t know how to 'be there,' wanting me to let them know if I needed anything. I couldn’t articulate what I needed," she said. “I pray God will use my grief, my struggles, and pain, to help others and glorify and testify to His unfailing love.”
Confronting Terrorism and Kristine’s Murderers
Israel has released many terrorists, some “with blood on their hands.” Many have murdered again. Israelis debate this fiercely. Should there be a death penalty for terrorists? Some suffered more because their loved ones’ murderers have gone free. Others, whose loved ones’ murderers have not been apprehended, derive “comfort” that they won’t have the added grief of having the murderers released.
Kathleen said she was "grateful the terrorists were caught."
"Their life sentence provides a measure of closure. I never fixated on the murderers," she explained. "My struggle, anguish, and anger was at God who didn’t protect Kristine. After much wrestling, I accepted what happened. I’ll never understand why God didn’t intervene; I know He is good. I draw near to Him knowing He promises to draw near to me in return," she said. “There’s comfort knowing they can no longer hurt anyone. (How) could (one) release of anyone who has murdered anyone through terrorism? They should never be released.”
On the fact that Palestinian Arabs celebrate, and fund, terrorists, Kathleen called the practice "abhorrent."
"It keeps Palestinians in a cycle of hate, imprisonment of their own making," she said. "If Islam encourages this evil, Palestinians are sadly duped. It’s a lie.”
In Israel, there’s a support network, including many social services. Victims relate to one another’s trauma. Kathleen shares, “I hesitate to say this, because I didn't suffer the attack myself. Early on, I had a sort of PTSD.”
When asked why she hesitated, she explained: “I was deeply traumatized. I was dazed, unable to process the enormity of what happened. The shock and manner of her murder terrorized my soul.”
Because they were twins, Kathleen’s trauma was unique. “I feared they would come after me. Hiking became fearful. We loved to hike. She was attacked hiking outdoors.”
Kathleen grieved, suffering alone. “I had to learn to remember her, not what happened to her. It would have consumed me. Because she suffered so greatly, I struggled with intense reactions at objects associated with her murder. It’s taken years to overcome the PTSD. God has been faithful to hold my heart. He understands the trauma I’ve endured.”
Faith, Forgiveness, and Moving Forward
Asked whether she could forgive the terrorists though they are unrepentant, she said that before Kristine’s murder, “being asked to forgive a murderer was unfathomable. God commands us to forgive. I choose to forgive the men for murdering my sister. I asked God to help me forgive.”
“It is unsettling to know they are unrepentant, that they found pleasure in the attack, and have no remorse," she added. "Until they open their hearts to God, they won’t be capable of feeling remorse and repentance.”
“I pray for their salvation," she continued. "I have thought of visiting them in prison to extend my forgiveness. Maybe someday.”
Kathleen explains that Psalm 56:8 has been a source of comfort: “You number my wanderings; put my tears into Your bottle – are they not in Your book?”
Connection to Israel
Kristine was murdered because the terrorists thought she was a Jew. The fact that Israel remembers and honors terror victims every year is "remarkable," Kathleen said, adding that it "creates a shared experience, a powerful way to grieve and remember together.”
But Israel should also extend their remembrance to include people like Kathleen's sister, Kristine, a Christian who was in Israel because of her love for the country.
“Expanding Memorial Day in Israel to include all (non-Israeli) victims of terror is important," she said. " It would be honoring to remember ones such as my sister who lost her life while visiting Israel.”
On how this has changed her, Kathleen says she feels "robbed."
"My heart was shattered. I am comforted by Psalm 34:18, 'The Lord is close to those of a broken heart …' I had to prevent getting lost in the loss. I had to lean into God. There will be good days ahead and that God promises to use everything I had been through and work it out for good," she said.
“I pray this strengthens others to see that ‘with God all things are possible.’ He has restored my hope! I had to trust Him. He has brought me through dark days into the light of His loving embrace. He is writing a new chapter. He will use this tragedy and my pain to honor and glorify Him.”