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When Your Child Dies by Homicide

The death of a child of any age is devastating. The pain and anguish can be compounded when the death comes at the hands of another human being. Parents and family members can face many complicated issues, even as they try to make sense of the incomprehensible – that someone knowingly, willingly and/or intentionally killed their child.

Possible Complicating Issues
When a child dies by homicide there can be many unique issues that may complicate the grief process for the parents and family left behind; these may include:
The child’s body may be the main evidence, and an autopsy and investigation may cause a lengthy delay in the release of the body to you.

Family members can feel like they are living a nightmare. When a death notification is received, it is normal to feel shock, disbelief, numbness, confusion, anger, denial and a feeling that the world has suddenly stopped. Murder is a violation of rightness and fairness in life. As time passes, reactions may include rage, a desire for revenge, anxiety, hopelessness, depression and/or an inability to eat or sleep. Other reactions may include frustration, fear that the murderer may return, survivors guilt and self-blame (for not being able to protect the child). All of these reactions are normal and need to be addressed in the bereavement process. Researchers suggest that post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is not unusual in survivors and can become part of their new reality.

Notifying immediate family members, relatives, friends and even employers can weigh heavily in the aftermath of receiving the initial notification. Often, different media outlets are provided the name of the child who died before the family can properly notify others. Even if the murder occurred elsewhere, the media may still want to stay in touch with the family every step of the way. It might be a good idea to have a family representative like an attorney, clergy person, or even a close family friend be the contact for the media in order to keep the additional stress on the family to a minimum.

A knowledgeable, caring victim’s advocate appointed by the court may also make the legal process more understandable and less daunting. But the pathway to healing does not run through the courtroom; it is just a necessary detour which may prolong the process of dealing with the death. Despite what others may naively say, capture and conviction of the murderer will never bring “closure.” No punishment will bring back your child, but support is available and can help.

How do Survivors Survive?
Each family member reacts to a child’s murder in their own way. Some may try to live “normally” while others may not; understanding that “normal” is gone forever. Unfortunately, when a murder has occurred, the hard work of grieving is often put on hold while the family faces the challenges that the child’s death brings into their lives.

There may be many trigger points throughout and after the pursuit of justice that will bring back the horror of what has happened. Some triggers include:
Seeing or identifying the accused

  1. News accounts of the event or of similar events
  2. Hearings, depositions, trials and many other legal processes including parole hearings, etc.
  3. The occurrence of “life events” that the child will never experience
  4. Holidays
  5. Anniversaries of the child’s birth or death
  6. Be prepared for these triggers and their effects on each member of the family. Your reactions are not signs of weakness, but are appropriate human responses to what has happened.

What Can You Do to Help Yourself?
The murder of a family member is very traumatic. If the investigation results in an arrest, many jurisdictions offer victim advocate services to assist family members throughout the court process. This can be very beneficial in helping to protect and prepare the family for each phase of a criminal trial. Limit your direct exposure or contact with media coverage of the murder. This type of news reporting can be emotionally punishing to the family and frustrating when inaccurate information is continually repeated. Everyone grieves differently and at their own pace. As long as you are not hurting yourself or others, there is no right or wrong way for you to think, feel or behave. Feelings of anger, fear and anxiety are normal responses after a murder. Although talking about these feelings may be difficult, it can help you begin to heal. Try to be patient with yourself and accepting of your own thoughts and feelings. Be selective in confiding your thoughts and emotions only with people you believe are willing to listen without judging or criticizing you.

The healing journey is a long-term process. Take care of yourself along the way by exercising, getting enough sleep, eating balanced meals, drinking plenty of water and taking breaks from your grief. Remember that we hurt so much because we love so much. Participating in special events or memorial services that pay tribute and honor to your loved one can be especially comforting. While the scars will always remain, it is possible to find hope and healing with the continued help and emotional support of others who have traveled a similar path.

How Can Others Help?
Here are some ways that friends and coworkers can help:

How Can The Compassionate Friends Help?
Many grieving parents find comfort in talking with others who have shared a similar experience. The Compassionate Friends, as a peer-to-peer support organization, can fill that need, offering friendship, understanding and hope to bereaved families that have experienced the death of a child. Talking about what happened and sharing where you are on your grief journey gives you the ability to learn from the experiences of others and the coping mechanisms they have used to survive.

While not everyone who attends meetings of The Compassionate Friends has had a child die by homicide, all feel the acute pain of losing a child and are seeking to learn from others who can help them bring meaning back into their lives. A meeting of The Compassionate Friends is a safe haven where you don’t have to worry about being judged or having others turn away when the tears start. Many consider it their new home with new friends and the reason they can say, We Need Not Walk Alone!

This brochure sponsored by
The Williams Family in loving memory of Bernard Williams
The Story Family in loving memory of son/brother Lee R. Story

© 2017 The Compassionate Friends, USA

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