I’ve been pondering mourning lately. My situation is different from most people’s I assume in that I was in such dire straights myself at eighteen, that my friend’s death hardly registered. I was emotionally flat lined, struggling with transitioning from my teens into adulthood.
So, I wanted to take a look at what might be some useful information for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one or family member who fell victim to a homicide. Mostly because this site was intended partly for that audience. I have yet to take the time to lay out in writing how my grief looks different from what might be a typical scenario — if such a thing exists.
Here’s what I found on the site novabucks.org. There’s a lot more resources on the page so check it out. Aftermath of Homicide
There is usually a period of grief following any loss. Although the notion of “stages” is no longer accepted, grief reactions and the tasks of grieving have been identified. Homicide survivors may also experience symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Indeed, it has been stated that factors such as the violence, suddenness, unexpectedness and randomness of the death and the anger, self-blame and guilt which result from it may place family members at risk for what has been termed “complicated mourning.”
There are many factors which may affect the course of the grieving process for homicide survivors. These factors include: the ages of the survivor and the victim at the time of the homicide; the survivors’ physical and/or emotional state before the murder; their prior history of trauma; the way in which their loved one died; and whether or not the survivor has, and can make use of, social support systems. In addition, social and cultural factors may have great impact on the grieving process.
When homicide survivors first learn about the murder, they may experience shock and disbelief, numbness, changes in appetite or sleeping patterns, difficulty concentrating, confusion, anger, fear and anxiety. One survivor described her initial reactions after hearing of the murder of a family member in this way:”I felt a scream coming out and I thought, No!’ I closed my mouth. My legs turned rubbery, and I started falling, and I still wanted to scream, but I couldn’t scream.”
In cases where homicide survivors have not been able to view their loved one’s body — either because it was not permitted or they felt unable to do so — it is often difficult for them to accept the reality of the death. It is for this reason that Redmond urges that family members be permitted to go through this viewing process, as painful as it may be at the time.
Homicide survivors sometimes describe a feeling that “the world has stopped”; they cannot understand how everyone else is able to go on about their daily routine. For them, the world as it was has come to an end, causing feelings of confusion and anger.
Later reactions often include feelings of isolation, helplessness, fear and vulnerability, guilt or self-blame, nightmares and a desire for revenge. One survivor described her reaction in this way:”I was empty — hollow — and, you know, you don’t think . . . you can’t concentrate, and you can’t see what’s in front of your eyes.”
Homicide survivors may experience heightened anxiety or phobic reactions; the anguish may seem intense and, sometimes, overwhelming. Sometimes survivors speak of a physical pain — such as a “pain in my heart” or a “lump in my throat” — which they could feel for several years after the murder. A survivor spoke of her reactions in this way:
“I’d cry more around my husband and what I called it was ‘wailing’ . . . when I did cry, I would cry from my soul because it hurt so bad.”
It is not uncommon for homicide survivors to have tremendous feelings of rage toward the person(s) responsible for the murder, but they may also experience anger toward the victim for “being in the wrong place at the wrong time” or for living a lifestyle which placed them at greater risk for victimization.
Feelings of depression and hopelessness may be present; survivors often report that they cannot imagine that they will ever be happy again. It is very important to get professional help if thoughts of self-harm or suicide are present. One survivor described her feelings in this way: “I’ve thought maybe it would be just as well that I end it, you know? Some days were so depressing.”
Even many years after the murder, survivors may find themselves suddenly crying over their loss. These feelings have been called “grief spasms” or “memory embraces”, and reflect the depth of the pain of the loss. Many survivors have said that they know they are doing better when they begin to have more good days than bad days.
Tasks of Grieving
There is a theory of the four “tasks” of grieving. These included: accepting the reality of the loss; feeling the grief; adjusting to a life in which the deceased is no longer present; and emotionally relocating the deceased so that life can go on.
The first task is that of acknowledging and accepting the reality of the loss — that the loved one is dead. Survivors often report a sense that their loved one will come up the driveway as usual at the end of the workday. Others have reported that they felt impelled to follow someone who looked just like their deceased loved one. It is often difficult for homicide survivors who have not had a chance to see their loved one’s body to know, finally, that it was not some terrible mistake and that their loved one is really dead.
The second “task” is that mourners must acknowledge and experience the pain associated with losing their loved one, whether it be physical and/or emotional pain. This is one of the most difficult tasks a mourner faces, even under the most supportive of circumstances. Homicide survivors often find that they must put their feelings on hold as they follow court hearings, trials and numerous appeals. However, no matter how the pain of the loss is held back or “put aside,” one theorist stated, the mourner must experience these feelings or they may carry the pain of the loss for the rest of their lives.
The third task is to adjust to a life in which their loved one is no longer present. At this point, family members begin to make personal or lifestyle changes which might take them in a very different direction than that planned while their loved one was still alive. Often family members may feel some guilt around these new decisions, wondering whether they are being disloyal to their relationship with the deceased. It is important for survivors to recognize and come to terms with these reactions and feelings.
The last task is that the mourner must somehow find a place for their loved one within their emotional life which can, at the same time, permit them to go on in the world. Survivors will not forget their loved one, but eventually will realize that their lives can and do go on.
Post traumatic Stress Reactions
Studies of families of homicide victims suggest that they may be particularly at risk for developing Post traumatic Stress Disorder. When a family member is murdered, the survivors often react with intense feelings of helplessness, fear and horror. The diagnosis of Post traumatic Stress Disorder is made when symptoms (listed below) last for at least one month; the disturbance adversely affects an important area of functioning, such as work or family relations; and criteria are met in the following three categories:
1Recurrent and intrusive re-experiencing of the traumatic event, such as dreams or “flashbacks”;
2Avoidance of places or events which serve as reminders of the murder; and
3Ongoing feelings of increased arousal such as constant vigilance or an exaggerated startled reaction.
One survivor described a recurrent dream she had after several family members were murdered: ” . . . I’d go to bed at night, and I’d dream about saving their lives.”
Some events — such as news coverage or the approach of birthdays, holidays or the anniversary of the murder — may trigger the sensation in homicide survivors that they are re-experiencing earlier stress reactions. One homicide survivor described her experience in this way: ” . . . nobody prepared me for the year anniversary . . . it just blew me away.”
If anyone wants to comment on how they grieved the loss of a loved one to homicide, that would be greatly appreciated.