Surviving the murder of a family member is an emotionally and psychologically taxing process. The stressors affecting survivors of a murdered loved one create mental, emotional, and physical health issues and grief reactions unique to survivors of the traumatic death of a loved one. Healing from this type of loss can take years. For some individuals, complete healing never takes place.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- How to Cope Immediately After Your Family Member Was Murdered
- How to Cope Months or Years After Your Family Member Was Murdered
- How to Help a Loved One Cope After Their Family Member Was Murdered
Families who've experienced the murder of a loved one experience stress often from learning the details of the crime committed against their loved one. They also face strain from the changes in their relationships with friends and family and the subsequent criminal and court proceedings. Survival becomes somewhat of a daily chore that no one particularly wants to do but must get done.
How to Cope Immediately After Your Family Member Was Murdered
The day you receive news of the murder of a loved one can be one that leaves an indelible imprint on your memory. You may not remember anything else that happens right after, but you'll likely never forget the knock at your door, the telephone call, or witnessing the event firsthand.
Receiving news like this can instantly send you to the brink of despair or leave you in shock and disbelief for days and weeks to come. Here are some tips on coping after your child is murdered or dealing with seeing your loved one's lifeless body.
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1. Allow your despair to take over
Survivors of murder victims tend to internalize grief symptoms in the first few weeks and months following the death of their loved one. The sudden traumatic death of a family member is often challenging to comprehend and accept.
The ensuing shock and disbelief grief reactions delay the grieving process, sometimes for years following the murder of a loved one. In the beginning, try and release all of the grief that swells inside of you. Holding it in may contribute to more complicated grief issues down the line that'll be more difficult to overcome.
2. Reach out to your family
Grieving the murder of a family member is often a group process involving other members of your family. After receiving the news of your loved one's death, consider reaching out to your family to gather strength and support. Estranged family members especially may feel the cumulative effects of losing a loved one and not having anyone to turn to during this challenging and painful experience.
You don't need to concern yourself with repairing any strained relationships when reaching out. Grieving is hard enough without any added pressure. Primarily reach out to ensure they've received the news, offer your condolences, and ask if there's anything you can do for them.
3. Gather as much information as possible
The murder of a loved one will leave you with many unanswered questions. Immediately after finding out the news, reach out to whichever family member is in charge of facilitating conversations with law enforcement detectives, police officers, and others who may have information on what happened.
Don’t rely too heavily on those with second-hand details, as it may be wrong or misleading. If your family hasn’t elected a spokesperson, consider filling in that role temporarily until you sort out who might be more capable or willing to do the job.
4. Ask a trusted loved one to come over
You may not want to be alone after receiving news of the murder of a family member. The shock and devastation that you’ll undergo may leave you unable to function immediately after confirmation of your loved one’s death. You’ll benefit from the company of a friend or other loved one coming to support you for a few hours or days as needed.
Consider only having those you trust be around you as sensitive information emerges regarding the details of your loved one’s murder. You won’t want leaked details posted on social media before any investigation is complete.
5. Refrain from the overconsumption of stimulants
For some individuals, turning to alcohol, mind-numbing medications, or illegal substances seems to be the only way to survive the immediate aftermath of a family member’s murder. As tempting as it is to turn to one of these quick fixes, keep yourself from making things worse by participating in such self-destructive behavior.
You’ll want to keep a level head about yourself to help other family members get oriented with your loss or take note of essential details and information that may follow the murder. You may also need to drive to a different location to meet with family members or law enforcement officials.
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How to Cope Months or Years After Your Family Member Was Murdered
The grief following the murder of one of your family members doesn’t just go away. You can expect that your family members will all grieve their loss in ways that seem similar and familiar. However, understand that everyone will process their grief differently from others, even when it appears to be the same. Processing your grief, talking about what happened, and participating in grief support counseling or therapy are healthy and effective ways to deal with your pain and heartbreak.
6. Seek the support of others
Keeping your pain and sorrow to yourself only delays your grief processing, leading to further complications down the line. Some who refuse to seek outside support still deal with grief several months or years after suffering from this type of loss.
Because everyone grieves differently, there's no way of telling how someone will be affected by the murder of a close family member. An excellent way to ensure that you have the needed love and support during this challenging time is to reach out to your friends and family to let them know you need help.
7. Enlist professional help
Group counseling for survivors of murder victims is widely available online and in person. Many grieving individuals who've experienced the murder of a loved one will benefit from receiving grief counseling or therapy.
One-on-one counseling is an effective way to deal with the loss associated with the murder of a family member. Many survivors also benefit from group therapy and sharing their experiences with others who've survived this type of loss.
Sometimes support groups are more effective in helping process murder survivors' grief than seeking individual counseling because survivors benefit from learning from many shared experiences in a group setting.
8. Keep the family together
Family dysfunction after a death contributes to the challenges of maintaining positive family relationships after the murder of a family member. Guilt, shame, and remorse often plague each surviving individual within the family unit, creating discord among even the tightest knit families.
Homicide bereavement is a family affair that doesn’t always have a happy ending. The murder of a family member often has a tremendous impact on both the individual family members and the family. The murder may detrimentally affect the stability, communication patterns, and functioning roles within them.
These are only some of the issues and challenges facing families after the murder of one of its members.
9. Accept that your grief is unique
Grief responses to a family member’s murder will vary and can’t compare to others’ experiences. You may suffer through the ebbs and flows of grief for many years after your loss, while other family members will seem less affected by it on the outside. Be aware that a person’s suffering may be internal and hidden from you and others.
Try to avoid comparing your grief to anyone else’s and allow your feelings and emotions to take shape organically. When emotions get tough to overcome, know that help and support are only a phone call away.
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How to Help a Loved One Cope After Their Family Member Was Murdered
Hearing the news or witnessing a family member’s murder often leads to complicated and prolonged grieving among survivors. Your loved one who’s experienced this type of traumatic loss may have PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, leading to complicated grief. Adapting to their loss may prove challenging for them, and they may need your help and support. Here are a few ways to help a loved one cope with their loss.
10. Don’t pressure them to give details
Survivors of murder victims may not yet have all the details surrounding the circumstances of their loved one’s death and may not be ready or willing to talk about what happened so soon after. They may also be dealing with the taboo or perception associated with the violent death that causes them to withdraw or skirt conversations related to the murder.
Being there for your loved one doesn’t have to involve detailed discussions about the murder if they’re not ready to discuss it. You can provide needed comfort and support by simply being there for them and listening to them recount stories of their loved one.
11. Help connect them to the right people
Introducing your loved one to online grief forums after the murder of their family member may provide some comfort and reprieve from feeling alone in their grief. Online grief forums are another form of a chat room where individuals suffering from loss come together to lend support to one another and share their unique experiences after suffering the death of a loved one.
Many people aren’t aware that these groups are available and are free to join and participate. You may want to take the time to research particular groups explicitly geared toward surviving family members of a murder victim.
12. Don’t shy away from their grief
The presence of grief will linger for a long time after the murder of your loved one's family member. Because grief is so complex, you might be waiting for a long time to reconnect with your loved one if you've decided to step away until after they've healed from their loss.
Know and understand that the responsibility to heal your loved one's pain and suffering isn't your burden to carry. Your continued presence may be all that's needed to help them get through the rough patches as they learn to cope independently.
Surviving a Loved One’s Murder
Exposure to violence against a family member leading to their death is shocking and surreal. After the murder of a loved one, you must find ways to cope with your loss and move forward in life.
The impact of murder on the surviving family members is long-lasting and life-altering. Many families will fall apart in the interim, leading to unforeseen secondary losses among all its members. Surviving the homicide of a loved one takes effort on the entire family’s part.