Homicide and grief

Losing a family member or friend to homicide is one of the most violent and cruel forms of death a person can experience. The sudden and unexpected loss of a loved one through violence creates a complicated grief that not many people understand.

A homicide investigation can be lengthy and is often accompanied by complex legal proceedings. The legal proceeding may or may not bring justice to the surviving family members, and this can lead to re-traumatisation and feelings of injustice.

Homicides often attract public media exposure, which is usually unwelcome and intrusive at a time when families are needing privacy and safety. This can occur at the time of the funeral as well as throughout legal proceedings.

If you have experienced the death of a family member or close friend due to homicide, the following information may assist you as you seek to find a way to process the enormity of your situation.

Traumatic grief

A death by homicide will elicit simultaneously a trauma and grief response. These two responses will vary based on many factors, including the attachment to the person who died (ie what type of relationship you had with the person) how you are able to process the grief and trauma you are experiencing, and what supports you have to help you through such an horrendous experience.

Upon hearing of a death by homicide, your body will automatically respond in a way to protect you from the enormity of the information that is being told (or of what it may have seen). The body may go into a hyper state of alertness, shutting down any unnecessary functions in order to simply survive the crisis. This can be seen in the following ways:

Physical symptoms:

  • Physical shock
  • Numbness
  • Disorientation
  • Hyper alertness
  • Increased adrenaline, heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, sweating, hyperventilation
  • Panic attacks
  • Constant crying, or the inability to cry.

Psychological symptoms:

The range and level of emotion that is experienced at the time of hearing of a death by homicide, as well as in the weeks and months that follow, will be dependent on many factors. There is no ‘right or wrong’ way, as every person’s grief is unique to them.

Emotions can feel extreme, irrational and unfamiliar. Some of the emotions you may experience can include anger, rage, fear, terror, frustration, confusion, guilt, blame, self-blame, shame, humiliation, sadness and a general overwhelm.

It is normal to experience dreams and nightmares of your loved one, particularly in the early months following the homicide. This is part of your body trying to process the enormity of what has happened.  If these continue as troubling nightmares post 6 months, it may be helpful to speak to a counsellor to enable further processing of the death.

You may also notice your emotions are triggered by certain events, dates or conversations. For example, when the legal process begins, this may trigger some raw emotions, regardless of the time passed since the death of your loved one.  It is important to allow your emotions to be expressed and supported.

Supporting your grief and trauma responses

Having someone close lose their life as a result of a homicide is a traumatic experience. It is important to note that a traumatic event in a person’s life does not necessarily lead to a person become traumatized, or that their trauma will become embedded within them (PTSD).  Trauma only becomes a pathological condition when it is not processed adequately after the event. Ways in which to support the trauma that you are experiencing can include:

  • Expressing your reactions and responses when you feel ready to do so. This can be with a person you trust (friend, family member or counsellor), or through a more internal and private process of writing or allowing yourself to articulate your thoughts and feelings within you
  • Engage in some type of physical exercise or movement on a regular basis. This will assist in both creating routine as well as processing the trauma itself through the movement of your body
  • Recognise what your grief needs and try to accommodate it. For example, if you need a day in your pyjamas or if it feels too soon to return to work, listen to what you need. Find ways of being able to work with your grief, particularly in the early days and weeks
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out for further supports. Sometimes, family and friends are not our greatest support. When someone that loves you sees you hurting, the want to “fix” things.
  • Be patient and gentle with yourself. Trauma and grief take time to process and work through. These experiences are not something that we “get over”, rather we learn how to live with loss.
  • Talk to us about what support we can provide during this time.

Our support to family victims can include:

  • Financial assistance for funeral expenses via Victims Services
  • Trauma counselling
  • Supporting children through grief
  • Family dynamics and relationship impacts
  • Crime scene clean-up issues
  • Managing the media
  • Court support and advocacy
  • Victim Impact Statement
  • Coroners Court
Do you require assistance from our Victim Support Unit in relation to this type of crime or similar?