I don’t think about David Funchess much anymore. I watched him die on April 22, 1986 in Florida’s electric chair. He was the first Vietnam Veteran executed in the United States. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder had yet to be discovered when Funchess, a highly-decorated combat Marine, fatally stabbed a couple during a hold-up in Jacksonville in 1974.
I was a cub reporter and was morbidly thrilled to have the opportunity to cover an execution. The little motel where I stayed in Starke, Florida was excited to see me, too, and had posted “Welcome Christine” on its roadside marquee. This story would be the crown jewel in my growing collection of clips – mostly stories of last night’s school board meeting and car wrecks. That’s how I looked at it.
On a personal level, I was hoping the execution would finally settle my doubts about the death penalty. I was brought up Catholic but having covered a few murders, I was not convinced that the death penalty was unjust. I was on the fence. I had heard of reporters who had fainted or barfed covering executions. I did not know how I would react.
Here is what happened: I didn’t react. I felt nothing but the adrenaline rush you get when covering a big story. I knew I should have felt something, but I didn’t. Maybe that is why I don’t think about David Funchess much.
Until last night. I was watching the movie The Green Mile, with Tom Hanks portraying a prison guard on death row, when David’s death came rushing back. I was just sitting in my chair with my dog when the movie’s first execution scene came on and instantly every muscle in the back of my neck went into gridlock. The clenched muscles pulled my head back and I got one of those shivers down my spine like you hear about in cheesy novels. I thought of Funchess.
Why was this affecting me like this after 26 years – most of which had passed without a thought of Funchess. Another, horrific execution scene came on and I got the same spontaneous reaction. Why?
I had never been the kind of person who discussed her feelings. We just didn’t do that in our family. You kept your feelings to yourself. We had several emotions and that was it: happy, sad, neutral, pissed off and seething. We displayed these feelings but didn’t talk about them. My dad was an alcoholic – not at all affectionate towards my mother. He was way more affectionate towards that dog than any of us. We had a white elephant, too. It just sat in the middle of the room and we pretended not to see him.
It wasn’t until I started coming out of my last and worst major depression that I started “dealing” with my feelings. I hated it. Thought it was stupid. I could see no logic is reliving the past and dredging up feelings I had not felt the first time I went through it. But when I was told I needed to learn to “feel my feelings” in order to prevent another major depression, I jumped at the chance.
Within in hour of my nurse practitioner telling me that I needed to “deal with my anger,” I was at a junk yard with a baseball bat. When my therapist urged me to go to a treatment center to resolve “family issues” – I went. Feeling began oozing out of me. Then they spilled and finally I regurgitated decades of repressed feelings. It was painful and incredibly uncomfortable. It left me exhausted, crying and shaking at times. It felt like someone had taken a potato peeler to my soul.
I learned…learned and learned and learned. A part of depression for many women was anger turned inward. Codependency had completely distorted my ability to respect myself. My anger came out sideways – usually as passive-aggressive sarcasm – because I did not know how to appropriately deal with it.
I still have issues with “feeling my feelings.” Sometimes my eyes well up when I am speaking about something dear or funny and people ask “Are you crying?” I have learned strenuous exercises to release my anger. My favorite is lifting a weighed ball over my head and slamming it as hard as I can on the ground. I tell people how I feel – especially my daughter – who seems to have and emotional radar detector to tell her when her mother is not right.
I have spontaneous emotions, like I did last night, in the middle of my living room watching a movie, and I let them out. I am not ashamed of my feelings. I don’t try to hide them. I recognize them and deal with them asap because I now know what will happen if I do not.
And I’m not going there if I can help it.
Prison photo available from Shutterstock.