Healing After a Homicide

“Senseless” is the unsettling description often used to describe a homicide. A murder death ranks among the most all-consuming of tragedies. What could possibly cause one human being to extinguish the life of another? There is no satisfying answer.

The devastating trauma inflicted upon the survivor can shatter the very fabric of your being. You may try to imagine how it must have been when your loved one was murdered. These thoughts may replay in your mind, haunting you when you are awake and in your dreams when you sleep. You may feel many stinging emotions—disbelief, anxiety, sadness, helplessness, anger, despair, and hyper vigilance. The violent nature of the death can make you feel that you have lost control of your life and even your sanity. The excruciating outrage is a betrayal of a “just world,” where people deserve what they get and get what they deserve.

The public nature of the death, with possible media attention, adds further complications. There may be further re-victimization if the perpetrator was not apprehended. If caught, there may be no trial, no conviction, or too lenient a sentence. Under these circumstances, it is not unusual to feel hatred, bitterness, and most unfortunately, thoughts of revenge. It is important to share your rage with a counselor, a supportive friend, or another survivor of homicide. Remember that there is a vast difference between ill-advised revenge and the need for justice. Some survivors of homicide have channeled their justifiable fury to lobby for stronger victims’ rights.

Understand that you are the victim and not the offender; there is no reason to feel guilt or blame. As much as you may sometimes be tempted, do not build a wall around yourself; reach out to the many resources within you and around you. There are caring and compassionate friends and family, as well as therapists, homicide survivors’ support groups, and state and local victim assistance programs.

Developed from Journeys with Grief: A Collection of Articles about Love, Life and Loss, edited by Kenneth J. Doka, Ph.D., MDiv., copyright Hospice Foundation of America, 2012.