If you are reading this section chances are that either you or someone you know has lost a loved one to murder. It is important to understand that each person reacts, grieves and survives differently. Understanding and respecting these differences may make it easier to help each other through this time, and future grieving as well. You cannot replace your loved one, and now you must learn to live without them, while also having to endure the criminal justice system (if the killer(s) have been caught). It can become overwhelming, and we highly recommend finding a support group in your area. There are links on our site, but please call or email us for other resources.
The 7 stages of grief
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book “On Death and Dying”, describes emotions experienced by people facing death. The emotions listed may represent just a few experienced by those who are affected by murder, however, it is a good place to start to try to help normalize the process you may be going through. The stages may happen in the order listed, or not; it depends on the person, and again, you may not experience some of these emotions or you may experience them all; they are common to the grieving process.
- Shock or Disbelief
- Acceptance and Hope
Common reactions to losing a loved one include, but are not limited to;
- Trouble eating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Physical pain
- Trouble concentrating
- Lack of motivation
- Inability to continue working or trouble finishing simple tasks at work (concentration difficulties)
Spouses/Partners may react differently to their loss – sometimes relationships suffer;
- Partners/Spouses blame each other (for the death of their child)
- Inability to communicate and comfort each other (this is especially so when one spouse has lost a sibling, parent or child that isn’t associated with their spouse)
- Lost interest in physical intimacy
- Anger at the way the spouse/partner is reacting grieving (he/she should be reacting this way)
- Attempt to run from the situation, sell the house, move, or divorce/separate
Possible reactions from children and parents
- If a child is killed, the parent(s) may lose the ability to “parent” living children
- Children may begin to skip school or have trouble concentrating
- Children may blame themselves for death of parent/sibling
- Children may exhibit risky behavior – skipping school, hanging out with the “bad crowd” using drugs or alcohol
- Parents may become over protective of children
Other reactions to losing a loved one to murder:
- Questioning faith – shaking religious foundation
- Feelings of helplessness, hopelessness
- Feelings of guilt
- Trying to “hold it together” because you are told that you must be a good example for your family/children
- Numbness – inability to feel, shut off emotions in an attempt to block the pain
- Using alcohol or drugs to “numb” the pain
- Desire to seek revenge
These are just a few examples of reactions to loss. You may find that you relate to all of these, or none of them.
We understand that you can never replace your loved one, and that it will never be “ok”. Time does not heal all wounds, but it helps us to find ways to manage the pain. Here are a few thoughts for working through this period of time.
- Your life has now changed forever. This type of change takes a long time to adjust to, so don’t rush yourself. Take what time you need to grieve.
- Consider seeking help through a counselor that specializes in working with survivors of homicide victims, find a local support group, or seek help from your place of worship.
- Do not make any major decisions for the first year after your loss. People will consider moving to try to get away from the memories of their loved one. If you need to move for safety reasons-then move. Otherwise, do not sell you house our make a big move until you have had time to really think it out. This applies to any major decisions – e.g. job changes.
- Do take care of yourself. Consider stress relief programs such as yoga or Thai chi.
- Make sure you eat – and that you are eating healthy foods. This is a stressful time and often we may react by not eating or eating too much. Vegetables and lean proteins are good sources of energy for our bodies. If you are having trouble getting food down, try vegetable soup or beef or chicken bullion. You need your strength and your health through this journey- so make sure to take care of your body.
- Be aware of your intake of alcohol or use of drugs. You may be using alcohol or drugs to compensate for your loss. This is commonly referred to as “self-medicating” and can be very destructive. Talk to someone and seek help from your doctor or therapist. Also consider attending a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous.
- Write. Journaling can be a very powerful outlet for expressing your feelings. Keep a notebook and write your thoughts down daily.
- Ask for what you need. When people ask you if you need help – let them know what you need. For example, do you need help keeping up your house or paying your bills? Please note, asking for assistance is not a sign of weakness – it is simply being human. If you need help – Ask for help.
The Investigation and Trial
When a crime happens, oftentimes the suspects will be arrested and a case will be filed with the local prosecutor’s office. When this happens, the state will decide how they want to proceed. Keep in mind, the state represents the “people“ they are not your attorney. However, you deserve to know how things are being handled throughout the case, and you have the right to attend court proceedings. This crime has affected your life – so ask the questions you need answered and participate in the process as much as you can.
During the investigation
Remember to always verify who you are speaking with. If someone calls you wanting to talk about the case, get their name and number and the agency they work for. Call the main number for their agency and verify that the person who called you is who they say they are. No one will be offended by your verifying information, and it protects you.
Keep a log or journal of whom you’ve spoken with about the case and on what date/time. This could be useful if you need to refer back to answer questions later.
You have the right not to speak with the defense attorney or their investigators outside of the trial. If they contact you-it is your choice to speak to them and your right to say no. This is also a very good reason to verify who you are speaking to.
During the trial
This is a very emotionally and physically exhausting time. It is important to take care of yourself, get rest and eat well.
By the time you get to trial, it may have been months, most likely years, since the murder of your loved one. Make sure that you have a secure support system, be it family or a local support group. Do not be afraid to call the prosecutor handling the case if you have questions, however, do be aware that the prosecutor is not your lawyer. They work for the county and are representing the state of California, not you. Victims are not allowed to obtain private attorneys to handle the criminal case, though you can hire a lawyer and sue the defendant in civil court for monetary damages. The trial may last years also, so be prepared to wait a long time to see an end to the case. Be prepared, you may be directed to sit outside of the courtroom during the entire trial, except for a time when you might be called to testify. This is a common practice (in California) and yes, it is legal. It is a tactic used by defense attorney’s to keep the victims family out of the sight of the judge and jury.
At sentencing, the victims have a right to give an impact statement to the court. This impact statement is for you – the victim’s next of kin, to tell the judge and the defendant how this crime has affected your life.
You might want to consider keeping a journal of your feelings and thoughts throughout this long process. It might prove therapeutic, but also, it will provide you information to refer to and use when compiling your impact statement.
You do not have to speak with members of the media, and often the district attorney’s office will ask that you do not. Information that is released to the public may compromise your case. If you do wish to speak to the media, do not disclose facts of the case. If the law enforcement or the district attorney’s office wishes to share that information, they will provide it to the media. It is best to just speak about your loss and your feelings.
You may always contact the iCAN Foundation for assistance or more information.