Coping After Homicide

by Lynn Jett Minick

In loving memory of my daughter, Denise Minick Cveticanin who, along with her unborn daughter, Laura, was brutally murdered. 

When someone you loved is murdered, your emotions become intensified to a much greater extent than you can imagine. You feel as though you have been thrown into an emotional tailspin. Shock, grief/heartache, guilt/self-blame, disbelief/denial, and anger seem to know no bounds – all seem to become entangled. You may possibly feel a loss of faith in God and mankind. You may feel stigmatized and suffer loneliness you have never known, all the while confused and wondering why this horrible tragedy occurred. At times you will wonder if anyone cares. Overwhelmed and confused, you may experience a loss of memory. Your mind seems “fragmented” and you may feel that you are losing your sanity. You will probably be depressed, impatient with yourself and others. You sometimes feel as though you have no emotional control. These are all normal reactions.

Reactions to shock vary with the individual. The shock may be so great that, unable to absorb it, you may seem in a daze with no outwardly visible reaction. You may feel totally helpless and look to others for direction. Although there is no way to determine exactly how long this “zombie” stage will last, it will pass in time.

The grief and heartache ordinarily associated with the death of a loved one are compounded when the loved one is lost through violence. You will be wracked with emotional pain, but don’t try to conceal your emotions. To suppress one’s grief and heartache not only delays the healing process, but it can also result in a deep, debilitating depression as well as physical illness. You have a right to grieve – don’t stifle it.

“If only I …”, “Why didn’t I ..?” are common reactions among survivors of homicide victims as they try to rationalize the entire episode. Do not blame yourself. It was not your fault.

An all-consuming anger may well up within you with no warning. There is nothing wrong with you, this is a normal reaction. After all, you have endured the ultimate violation. You may even fantasize about means of seeking revenge. This is neither uncommon nor unhealthy, and it may even help. You will likely experience such anger repeatedly as you go through the trial process (which we will discuss later).

We, as a society want to know why an incident occurs. Too often, there is no rational answer to this question. Lack of understanding coupled with an insane desire to know why often results in stigmatizing the survivors. This, of course, creates even greater emotional turmoil for survivors.

Sadly you will learn that the crime is only the first in a seemingly endless series of victimizations. Society tends to focus attention on the criminal at the same time ignoring the victim. This unfortunate fact intensifies the victim’s distress, confusion, anger, and pain.

At times, you may feel the urge to cry out, “Hey, what about me?” At other times, you may ask yourself, “Doesn’t anybody care?” You feel victimized by public apathy, and you are frequently hurt by the insensitivity of others. You soon learn that those who have not suffered the trauma of victimization simply cannot understand. They don’t realize that the victim is so traumatized that a simple courtesy shown becomes an act of caring from the victim’s perspective.

Your concept of friends may be altered. Friends who were very supportive in the beginning may avoid you. It is crucial to share your grief and you may want to tell your story repeatedly, but your friends may not be able to deal with the details of the tragedy. Your friends still love you, but they feel uncomfortable around you. Your feeling of isolation intensifies as you suffer that which you perceive as rejection. Your presence is a constant reminder to your friends that they too are vulnerable. It is much easier for them to ignore their own vulnerability when you aren’t around. Even though your intellect makes you understand, your emotions seem to cry out the ever-present question: “Doesn’t anybody care?”

You may find it helpful to keep a diary. Write your true feelings, whatever they may be. Not only can keeping a diary be therapeutic, but it may also help remember details later which otherwise might be difficult to recall. This will prove to be especially beneficial as the case goes to trial.

When a murder occurs within a family, one might expect it would unite the family more closely. Such is not the case for many times, murder separates a family both physically and emotionally. We each grieve in our own way, and we learn to cope in our own way. Many times it is difficult for family members to cope with their own grief that they simply do not have the ability to support other members of the family. Often family members are reluctant to discuss the murder among themselves.

The personalities of family members may change dramatically. Victims develop an acute sense of awareness which may be viewed by others as paranoia. Social inhibitions are not uncommon among victims of crime, including those who were once considered extroverts. There are those who may resort to the use of alcohol or drugs in their effort to cope, thus compounding their problems. A student, preoccupied with the murder, may seem to lose interest in school when in reality the student is unable to concentrate. The same considerations should be accorded to youngsters as adults.

Many survivors agree that the victim’s birthday, holidays, and anniversaries trigger a resurgence of pain. Hopefully, as you go through the healing process, you will discover a way to lessen the pain of these special days. You may wish to indulge yourself in a way that your loved one would have wanted for you. Do those things which make you most comfortable.

Society can be very cruel. Due to their lack of understanding, people may say inappropriate things to you, things which tend to victimize you further. Implications that somehow the victim’s behavior contributed to his own death are devastating to the survivor. Equally offensive are remarks such as “It’s over now, put it behind you,” “You should be over that by now, it’s time to get on with your life,” etc.

Unfortunately, you may be both hurt and angered by the religious community. There are many ministries that conduct religious services for offenders, and provide aid and solace to their families as well. They seem ever ready to help the criminal even though he is a repeat offender; however, most churches provide virtually nothing for survivors of homicide victims. We do not condemn this practice even though lack of support from the religious community greatly intensifies the overwhelming emotional upheaval for the survivor of a homicide victim. We encourage the religious community to develop sensitivity to the plight of the victims.

There are those of the cloth who may tell you it was God’s will and urge you to forgive the murderer. Remarks of this type “re-victimize” the survivor by adding the feeling of unworthiness to the existing emotional turmoil. When the victim’s perception of God and religion has already been adversely affected by the crime, such remarks are devastating and can destroy a victim’s faith. Try not to be impatient with yourself. The trauma of victimization often takes much longer to work through than you may now realize, for not only are your emotions involved, your emotional state affects your physical state as well. You may suffer a loss of appetite. You may feel tired and listless and sometimes a very simple chore becomes a seemingly insurmountable task.

Copyright 1988 Lynn Jett Minick. All rights reserved.

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