(Information adapted from the Wendt Center on Loss and Healing)
When a loved one is murdered, family and friends often experience symptoms of trauma along with the grieving process. Homicide is so sudden, unanticipated and violent that it often shakes the survivors’ sense of safety, control and trust in the world around them. They may feel shocked, angry, and guilty, or as if they failed to protect their loved one from harm. These intense emotional reactions are often further complicated by the involvement of the criminal justice system and sometimes the news media.
What are normal grief reactions after homicide?
If you are a homicide survivor or experiencing grief, you may feel:
- Unable to understand or believe what happened to your loved one
- Helpless and powerless over your surroundings
- Preoccupied with your own personal safety and the safety of surviving loved ones
- As if you somehow could or should have protected your loved one from harm
- Haunted by images, nightmares, and flashbacks of the murder, even if you were not a witness
- Afraid of strangers and worried that the perpetrator, or any perpetrator, will strike again
- Intense rage toward the perpetrator(s)
- Distrustful of others and of the world around you
- A desire to avoid people and places that remind you of your loved one or of the homicide
- Physical symptoms, like head or stomach aches, difficulty sleeping, eating or focusing
- Blamed, isolated, exploited, or stigmatized by law enforcement, health care providers, news media, and your own friends and family
- Anger and blame in many different directions – toward yourself, other family members, witnesses of the homicide, law enforcement, spiritual leaders, and God
What can I do?
While no one reacts to homicide or grieves in the same way, these steps may be helpful:
- Stay Connected—Try to allow trusted friends, family, and those who are also grieving to support you, just as you support them. Seek out a support group or online community designed for those coping with the homicide death of a loved one.
- Create a Ritual— Consider a religious or non-religious ritual, during which you can safely say goodbye to your loved one.
- Maintain a Routine— Regain a sense of control over your life by maintaining a basic structure and routine. Try to get enough rest, eat proper meals, and exercise regularly.
- Record Your Thoughts and Feelings— Keep a journal, write a poem, or write a letter to your loved one as a way of processing your grief.
- Safely Release Your Anger— Find a safe way to release your anger, perhaps in grief counseling or with understanding friends and family.
- Set Boundaries—The initial involvement of law enforcement officials, news media, and even friends and family, may be overwhelming. Setting boundaries about what you will discuss and when you will talk with them may help.
- Address Your Trauma-related Reactions—Common responses to homicide include nightmares, flashbacks, fear, avoiding people and places. Slowly begin to rebuild a sense of safety, most likely with the help of a mental health professional.
- Grieve in Your Own Way— Not all those affected by homicide react in the same way. Allow yourself to grieve at your own pace.
Contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone at 1-855-484-2846 or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services that can help if you lost a loved one to homicide or are grieving.
Visit the Wendt Center’s About Grief page for general suggestions on the grieving process, seeking help, and common reactions.
How to Help a Grieving Child, produced by the Dougy Center, the National Center for Grieving Children and Families, provides guidance on supporting grieving children.
Compassionate Friends supports families after a child died through online support, a crisis hotline, and local chapter meetings.
Parents of Murdered Children, provides support to families and friends of those who have died by violence through monthly chapter meetings and an annual conference.
MADD operates a 24-hour Victim Help Line at 877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435) and has supportive literature for those who have lost a loved one to drunk or impaired driving.
Concerns of Police Survivors, offers retreats, provides training, and organizes special events for survivors of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty.