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Grief Following Homicide: A Brief Overview

Excerpt from the book

Coping with Traumatic Death: Homicide

Bob Baugher & Lew Cox

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Individual Grief Reactions

While no one will be exempt from grieving the murder of a loved one, the actual displays of grief that you see in the people around you will run the entire range of emotions. Some people openly express their grief, whereas others may show little or no grief and may seem as though they are not grieving and are unemotional. Remember that you cannot make a person grieve; and you can't make them grieve like you. Never measure a person's grief by their tears or lack of tears or emotions.


For a time, denial and silence may seem helpful in reducing the pain of the death. Many people do this for a time as they try not to think about the death, the pain, and the dreadful reality that their loved one is never going to return. Eventually you will be faced with numerous reminders that this event really did take place. For some people the reality of the tragedy may sink in within a few weeks following the death. For others, it takes several months, perhaps a year or more. Most people report that they never arrive at a point in their loss where they say, “Now I’m healed.” You are suffering from a broken heart and your soul has been wounded. You will never forget your loved one. The pain of loss will diminish, but their love will always be with you.

Grieving in a Black Hole

You might have had the feeling of falling into a "black hole." You feel yourself slipping into a state of confusion and dejection. Your disposition has become confusing to you at times and you may think you are going crazy. You may be entertaining thoughts of retaliation or suicide—or both. This type of thinking most likely is foreign and disturbing to you and those around you. You probably never thought you were capable of thinking thoughts of murder towards someone else. It's hard to say how long you will be in this state. However, in time, you will have the laborious job of climbing out of this “black hole.” As difficult it might be to belie can tell you this: You will come out of it.


Fear is a common reaction to sudden death. Examples are fear of:

  • Going crazy

  • Losing control

  • The same tragedy happening to other family members or to you

  • Venturing out into a world that now looks more frightening

  • Loving someone that much again—avoiding intimate relationships

  • The future

  • What people will say about your loved one, your family, or about you

  • Family members suffering the painful grief from this death

  • People forgetting your loved one


A common reaction following a tragic death is a replaying of the event—or the event as you imagined it—over and over in your head. One of the most frequent recurring thoughts is, "What was my loved one thinking and feeling at the moment of death?" We typically replay what we imagine was the scene in the last few moments of our loved one's life. This is something your brain needs to do over and over (and over) until you don’t need to do it as often. If these thoughts disrupt your activities of daily living, contact a counselor who has experience in homicide-related grief.

The View of the World Has Changed

When a tragedy occurs in our life, our view of the world changes suddenly and permanently. It looks gray and cold. Yet, the world continues to act as if nothing has happened.

Family Grief

Murder pulls apart the core of the victim's family. Each family member grieves differently. You may notice a distinct change in your children after a family member has been murdered. Infants and preschoolers may become more whiney and unruly. School age children may act out at school and they may naturally fear that they or other family members will be killed. Teenagers may become more impulsive. Yet, they also may become reserved and bottle up their feelings.

Reactions of Other People

What we're going to say to you next is not pleasant; but we feel it is necessary to give you this information to prepare you for what may lie ahead: You may find that many of the people who have surrounded you during this period are leaving you and are going back to their families and their respective lives. Life will never be the same for you because of this traumatic death. Many people in your life will do everything possible to get you back to your old self. When they find that the old "you" is gone, some will stay with you, but others will slip quietly out of your life. Nonetheless, in time you will meet and make new friends and develop new relationships with people who have been through a similar traumatic loss.

Coping with the Enormous Pain

Listed below are ways that people have coped with the sudden death of a loved one. As you know, some of the behaviors that involve escape from or avoidance of the harsh reality of the death are unhealthy when used in extreme (see those with an asterisk*). Here are coping behaviors that homicide survivors has found helpful:

  • Talking with someone who is a good listener

  • Talking with your loved one

  • Crying

  • Wearing or sleeping with the clothing of your loved one

  • Reading books and articles, going online, and watching videos related to your loss

  • Joining a support group with people who have been through similar experiences

  • Finding a good grief counselor

  • *Using work as an escape

  • *Taking time off from work

  • *Using sleep as an escape

  • *Imagining that your loved one is away

  • *Distracting yourself by reading books, going online, or watching television

Unhealthy Grief Reactions

Because the range of normal grief is so broad, only three of the most noticeable unhealthy grief reactions will be addressed:

  • Anger reactions—that hurt another person or yourself, such as yelling, screaming, and becoming physical. It’s OK to be angry, but do not let it get to a point where it becomes hurtful or displaced onto other people or yourself.

  • Extreme denial reactions—constantly believing that your loved one is still alive or not mentioning your loved one's name again.

  • Escape through addictions—alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, gambling, overspending

Feeling (or Not Feeling) the Presence of Your Loved One

Some people report that they feel the presence of their loved one. Some feel it constantly while others feel it only once in a while. Other people report experiences such as a visual, sound, or touch sensation that convince them it is their loved one. It is not clear why some people have these experiences and others don't. Remember, these reports are common among grievers.

Taking Care of Yourself

Even though you may not feel like it, we urge you to do the things that will help keep you healthy. You know what they are. Please do them.

Re-traumatization and Grief

On the nightly news, a television drama, a video, online information, or in the newspaper you may see a similar death, trial, or family reaction. It can be highly disruptive when you suddenly find yourself re-experiencing the events surrounding the death. You may find yourself empathizing with the family members depicted in the story. There is a term for these unexpected, sudden grief reactions: grief attacks. Be patient with yourself. The fact is, years later grief reactions can still emerge. The difference from the initial grief responses is that people tend to get through these emotional episodes more quickly than they did years before.

We wish you the best.

Bob & Lew

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