Someone You Love Is Murdered!

Posted on September 2nd, 2012

A couple of months ago a friend of mine lost her brother in a brutal murder. As an actively spiritual person, he opened his apartment to a homeless man. A week or so later, he realized he'd made a mistake and asked the person to leave. The result was a barrage of bullets in a cafe with 4 others dying along with my friend's brother!

This type of death is difficult for grievers to resolve as it is not a normal death such as cancer, heart disease or other illness. It is caused by an external, criminal act, something unexpected and abrupt. Often there is a vivid reenactment of what the dying person must have gone through, what they must have been feeling, thinking and doing while enduring the assault.

Under normal circumstances, talking about the deceased is comforting and can be helpful but the retelling of a homicidal death can be punishing as grievers sometimes feel they failed to protect their loved one. The re-enactment of the death can become a fixation for grievers. There is no scenario where the griever can "undo" such a death, thus feelings of helplessness ensue in addition to vicious auditory and visual images when retelling the story. A griever can become trapped in the story of their dying loved one.

One technique to free the griever from entrapment in the story is by creatively re-imagining the trauma. The griever can insert herself into the final scene. In this way the dying person can express their appreciation and love for the griever, and the griever can share how much their presence has enriched their lives, as well as how they will keep the person's memory alive. In this scenario, the dying person can comfort the griever and allow them some relief from the onslaught of obsessive recall around the death. This is best done with a grief counselor/therapist, but can also be done through journaling where the griever has an interactive conversation with the deceased.

Homicidal deaths leave behind complex grief reactions because of the over-identification with the horror and helplessness of the victim and might be complicated by excess remorse on the part of the griever. Relaxation techniques such as breathing and physical exercises, and/or massage therapy can also be helpful.

There is no easy resolution for people who have lost a loved one through violence, but with patience, gentleness and caring, we can each help our brothers and sisters walk through this difficult time. Even though we aren't all grief counselors/therapists the gift of listening and of presence can be the very healing properties the person needs to move forward in their life.

Reference: OMEGA, vol. 65 (3) 239-349, 2012
The Narrative Dynamics of Grief after Homicide

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