It's Not Uncommon...Normal Grief Responses After a Loved One's Murder
The violent death of a loved one is a horrific, emotionally devastating experience for those left behind. Survivors cannot fathom how another human being could intentionally, often without conscience, take the life of someone they love. This one act will destroy hundreds of other lives as well.
Whether the murder is a singular act, a mass shooting at a school, theatre, restaurant or social gathering, or the act of a terrorist, the overwhelming and sudden grief shakes us to our core. No one should be subjected to such life altering pain and the fallout from a death by homicide.
Homicide, unlike an anticipatory death or illness, is horrifically sudden. No one is prepared for such deep sorrow or the way it will change us so completely in all areas of life.
The Emotional Aspects:
It is not uncommon…
● To have to take your grief one minute at a time.
● To feel the intense ‘peaks and valleys’ of emotion within short periods of time.
● To wake up in the middle of the night from horrendous nightmares depicting the suffering your loved ones endured just prior to their death.
● To feel like you are going out of your mind, trying to figure out fiction from reality.
● To question WHY you must endure this.
● To struggle with the ‘if onlys’. Everyone goes through this period of the ‘if onlys’ and ultimately realies the blame belongs on the criminal, not you.
● To feel you could have, in some way, prevented this from happening. You couldn’t have possibly thought anything so tragic would ever befall your loved one. The only person to blame is the criminal.
● To replay the events of that fateful day over and over in your mind.
● To feel helpless that somehow you couldn’t protect her; that you should have been able to protect her from this.
● To be unable to explain the pain, and made to feel guilty by friends, family and colleagues that your struggle can’t be resolved in the time frame they’ve set for you.
● For close family and friends to inquire when you’ll be getting back to ‘normal’.
● To feel envious that other parents still have their children and you don’t.
● To feel that you loved your child more, had a better relationship than many parents who still have their children.
● To struggle with what to do with their personal belongings. It is best not to make any quick decisions you may regret later. Save everything until you are no longer in shock (several months) and can make better choices. Don’t let others force you into something that makes them feel uncomfortable.
● To be unable to laugh.
● To be angry that others are no insensitive to laugh near you.
● To be intolerant of what others perceive as ‘problems’.
● For husbands and wives to grieve differently.
● For a couple’s sex life to deteriorate.
● For a couple to walk around on eggshells near one another because they aren’t sure how to respond to the other’s level of grief on any given day. A wife may feel happy on the same day her husband returns from work in great pain.
● For siblings to lose their identity after a murder. Whereas they once were the middle child, they may now be the eldest.
● To be unable to continue in your present job, or function at school.
● For family and friend to disappear and for new unexpected friends to assist you in your time of need.
● For outsiders to blame the victim for their own death. By doing so they convince themselves that it can’t happen to them.
● To be overwhelmed by how long it will take to ‘stabilize’ after the crime.
● To feel guilty about self-pity. Everyone is entitled to spend a certain amount of time feeling sorry for themselves. You have been through one of life’s unthinkable events.
● To realize you and your family have been forever changed.
It is not uncommon…
● To get panic attacks and fearful times when you think of the possibility of this happening to you.
● To have headaches, heart problems, stomach problems, depression, etc. following the murder of someone close.
● To find yourself rocking in your seat in an unconscious effort to comfort yourself.
It is not uncommon…
● To question everything about your faith.
● To wonder why she was taken, so innocent, when there are other evil people in this world who are still alive, sometimes even the killer.
● To bargain with God that you’ll do anything just to hold her, see her, feel her once again.
● To be angry with God. How could he put her through this intense, overwhelming pain? How could he let this happen to her? How could he make you endure this?
● To ask God why, over and over again, because how could this loving God, my God, allow this to happen.
● To question what life is all about, what purpose your life now has that your loved one was taken from you, especially in this manner.
It’s not uncommon…
● For this crime to cause a financial burden within the family budget and/or for your financial lifestyle to be completely shattered if you miss work or need to downsize your job because of the pressure of being unable to work at the same capacity you did before the murder.
● To bear extreme financial hardship which completely devastates your savings and financial future using these finances, perhaps, to change location, homes, work, for healthcare and medication not covered by insurance, for therapy, counseling, etc.
● To have extended periods of time when you are unable to work.
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Those who struggle with the violent death of a loved one become acutely aware early on that there is a complication to their grief work – the criminal justice system.
Unlike other deaths, survivors of loved ones who have been murdered, killed by drunk drivers, run down in hit and run cases, victims of terrorist attacks, or through other violent means, are thrown into an often unfriendly, confusing, unfamiliar and somewhat intimidating group of people and sets of circumstances beyond their control.
The Legal Aspects/The Media:
It’s not uncommon…
● For families to feel their grief is often put ‘on hold’ while dealing with law enforcement officers, district attorneys/prosecutors, attending hearing and trials, developing petitions, etc. And just when you start your grief journey many months or years later, everyone around you wants to know why you ‘aren’t over this by now’.
● To feel intimidated by law enforcement and prosecutorial language you know nothing about or these professionals handling the case. Remind yourself this is their job and you’ll expect them to perform it well just as you would from any other professional.
● To be angry with insensitive news reporters whose stories are often inaccurate and hurtful.
● To feel used by reporters who wish to sensationalize the killing to sell more papers.
● To often feel the true story is never told.
● To be shocked to learn the victim really has nothing to do with the case – the case is the state vs. the defendant or New York State vs. John Doe. You think to yourself…if there is no victim, there would be no case.
● To become impatient with a criminal justice system which is so slow, often waiting months to years for the case to come to trial.
● To be fearful that the judge and jury will not know how special our loved one was. By attending the trial the survivors represent the victim because they cannot represent themselves.
● To feel resentment that the detectives and district attorneys have studied criminal procedure for years and you are expected to comprehend it all in one or two quick lessons – while in shock!
● To be resentful that you are doing the police’s job for them.
● To lose complete faith in the criminal justice system.
● To be twice victimized by a criminal justice system more interested in the right of the accused than of the victim.
● To be extremely angry with police, detectives, medical examiners whose work was so unprofessional and sloppy that crucial evidence might has been thrown out of court and possibly strikes a devastating blow to the district attorney’s case.
● To be outraged that they would even consider offering the defendant a plea bargain.
● To be unnerved with continual delays before the trial finally begins.
● To feel the additional pressure at work. Trying to arrange time off to attend the trial is extremely difficult when its inception is continually postponed and/or the judge may need to change dates for various reasons while the trial is taking place. This adds tremendous stress to both you and your boss since you need flexibility at this time.
● To be fearful and have mixed emotions before attending the trial. Painfully sitting through weeks of testimony, medical examiner testimony, hearing what was done to your loved one, and seeing pictures of the crime scene takes a great toll on a person. Listening to how your loved one was brutally killed in lurid detail is not something anyone ever considers experiencing in their lifetime.
● To feel robbed when you realize even if he is convicted that your loved one won’t come back to you.
● To have mixed emotions when the trial is completed.
Mostly, it’s not uncommon…
● To feel deep resentment that the act of one person could wreak such havoc, emotionally, physically, spiritually and financially, over so many lives, for so many years. And you are there to pick up the shattered pieces of your lives.
And it is not uncommon…
● To find some comfort among the strangers who seem to come out of nowhere and assist you when those you thought you could count on have exited your life.
● To join others who share your pain and find a safe, nurturing environment which provide space to grief.
● To slowly, after many years, mold yourself a new life, perhaps completely different, which now makes you feel comfortable.
● To focus less on the painful last minutes of their life and instead reach a point where you are able to value the time and low shared between you and your loved ones.
Mary Mac specializes in helping executives and entrepreneurs understand and navigate through their grieving process after a significant tragedy. If you are suffering emotionally, physically, financially and/or spiritually because you've tried to take care of everyone else but yourself, this is your time and this is the place.