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Homicide and Grief

Homicide is defined as the death of a person caused by criminal activity committed by another human being. 

(Information on grief adapted from the Wendt Center on Loss and Healing)

What is grief?

The immediate time following a death, your grief can become overwhelming. Many of these thoughts and feelings you might experience are normal. At times, it might feel like too much to handle and as if your grief will never stop. Here are some things to know about how grief can be helpful:

  • Grief serves a very important purpose for each of us in a different way.
  • Grief allows us to take in and acknowledge the person who has died.
  • At first, grief could take form as denial or a separation from the idea that a person is gone forever.
  • Over time, you may slowly begin to understand and accept the loss that you have experienced. This allows us to make sense of the loss on our own timeline and in our own way.

What are normal grief reactions after homicide?

If you are a loved one of a homicide victim 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/distrustful of strangers and worried that the perpetrator, or any perpetrator, will strike again
  • Intense rage toward the perpetrator(s); anger in many forms even towards oneself
  • 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

What can I do to address grief?

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.
    • Do something that honors your loved one: planting a memorial tree, enlarging a photograph and framing it, giving back to your community.
    • Look at pictures of your loved one and remember your times together.
  • Maintain a Routine:
    • Regain a sense of control over your life by maintaining a basic structure and routine.
    • Get enough rest, eat proper meals, and exercise regularly.
    • Try something new like a class or hobby.
    • Make healthy choices regarding alcohol and other drugs.
    • Find ways to relax, such as with music, quiet time, watching TV, or a movie.
    • Treat yourself in ways that make you feel cared for and that are distracting.
  • 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:
    • With the initial involvement of law enforcement officials, news media, and even friends and family.
    • Set boundaries about what you will discuss and when you will talk with them.
  • Address Your Trauma-Related Reactions:
    • Such as 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.

What can I do after a homicide?

Learn More

Visit the Wendt Center’s About Grief page for general suggestions on the grieving process, seeking help, and common reactions.

The Dougy Center of the National Center for Grieving Children and Families provides guidance on supporting grieving children.

Visit our VictimConnect Resource Map for additional resources or contact the VictimConnect Resource Center by phone or text at 1-855-4-VICTIM or by chat for more information or assistance in locating services that can help after you lose a loved one or are experiencing grief.