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The Complexities of Homicide Grief

A Survivor of a Homicide Victim’s Perspective

What Is Natural Grief?

Natural grief is a universal human experience following the death of a loved one. Grief in itself is not bad.  It is natural and it is spontaneous.  It is the reaction people have to any loss in their life.  Grieving is a complex process and someone`s capacity to grieve is influenced by the nature of the loss, their personal resilience and the context of the loss.  Grieving is a deeply personal and painful experience. It comes with an array of mixed feelings, sensations, thoughts and behaviours.  It is; however, a normal response to loss. It provides for the transition of the loss to be integrated into the person`s life.  Grief is the pain and mourning is how we express it.

What Is Homicide Grief?

Homicide grief consists of the reactions experienced by natural grief, but is unique in that it has a profound and lasting effect on the victim’s family and loved ones.  The distress caused by having to deal with such horror of the event itself and the fact that someone could purposely take the life of your loved one is unimaginable. That coupled with having to deal with the police, the media, the investigation, the courts, corrections and various other organizations often tends to re-victimize the survivors of homicide victims for a long time, in some cases tens of years, or their entire life. The effect a homicide has on the victim’s family is not only lasting, but it impacts many aspects of life, such as personal relationships, work, and social life, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.  Survivors begin to question values and beliefs about the world.   Life as they once knew it disappears, and it becomes a struggle between moving on and hanging on.

What Are The Impacts Of Homicide Grief?

People may experience intrusive thoughts about the violent way in which their loved one died, which can be graphic and intense. They may suffer from flashbacks or memories from the scene of the crime, or from having to identify their loved one in a morgue.  Also people may feel that their own safety is at risk.

Often survivors of homicide victims feel isolated and alone.  Society may place some of the blame on the victim and may attach a stigma to the death.  Many people bereaved through homicide feel as though no one understands the depth of their grief, and feel that others have unrealistic expectations of the time it takes to grieve the loss of a loved one as a result of murder.

Dealing with the police can be particularly difficult, especially in the early stages when families are in shock and trying to come to terms with what has happened.  The police may not be able to give out any details of the murder due to the on-going investigation, which leaves the family feeling angry, more isolated and confused.

Reporters and the news media can be acutely persistent in their endeavours to obtain “The Story” from the family. They can print inaccurate information or appear to blame the victim, which not only re-victimizes a family, but can have devastating effects on their emotions, mental and physical well-being.

The victim’s funeral is an important process in the grief journey.  It provides the opportunity to say goodbye to the victim. However, sometimes in the case of homicide where the victim has sustained horrific injuries, families are not encouraged to view the body.  This is particularly important to some people, as it is the last opportunity to say goodbye to their loved one. This then becomes an internal emotional struggle with some survivors, wishing they had insisted on seeing their loved one.  Did they or did they not make the right decision, will always be a question.  And of course, we must not forget the invasion of privacy when the media attends the funeral and perhaps the police investigative team, if the murderer has not yet been arrested.

Our Right to Grieve

It is important not to allow our family, friends, co-workers or even society in general to pressure us into getting on with the business of living and in doing so, suppress our grief. We have been given an unimaginable heartbreak; we need to be allowed the time to grieve as long as it takes, with respect, understanding, patience, and compassion.

As survivors of homicide victims you are going through the worst possible unimaginable grief you will ever experience. There is no roadmap on this journey through the aftermath of murder. Our needs and intense feelings are normal under the circumstances and we have the right to have them respected.  Total resolution or closure for many survivors cannot be expected.  Very slowly we work towards the integration of this tragedy into our lives, then painfully we reconstruct our very being, and strive for a “new normal” way of life.  Therefore, only you can be the judge of time, be gentle with yourself.