By Clementina Chery
When the tragedy of homicide strikes an already traumatized community, countless lives are affected. From siblings to parents, spouses, partners, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, to coworkers, friends, classmates, teammates, and neighbors. We all deal with sudden and tragic death differently: shock, anger, revenge, self-blame, guilt, and shame are all parts of the seemingly endless flood of feelings. The pain of grief is felt emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Many times when someone we care about is grieving, we don’t know what do for them, what to say to them or how to act around them. We may unwittingly end up doing or saying the wrong things or avoiding them altogether.
As of January 29, 2015 homicides in the city of Boston and across the commonwealth continue. The Peace Institute is sending these suggestions to those of you who care, want to help and not sure how. Reaching out and supporting survivors of homicide victims is simple, yet it is a complex process. Take the time to read the suggestions below. The process becomes complex when you decide to free style without taking the time to know the many assets, resources and programs that are in place to offer guidance and support to families impacted by murder in a caring, coordinated and compassionate manner. While it may sound like simple things to do, they are just that. This advice is coming directly from those of us who have been there, the survivors of homicide victims.
Remember to keep it simple and align your heart with your mind, use common sense, it is not about you. Survivors of homicide victims are a community within an already traumatized community in need of specific and targeted intervention that starts with the proper death notification, funeral preparation, community coordination, the investigation process and in some cases trial. It’s important that all survivors regardless of the circumstance have a supportive team around them and are connected to the proper in their greatest time of need.
1. Say little on an early visit: Your brief embrace, a press of your hand, and a few words can speak more than you know.
2. Do not probe too harshly for details about the murder: If information is offered, all you need to do is listen with a care and compassion.
3. Don’t be judgmental: DO NOT EVER place a different value on a life based on judgments or what you read in the media about the life the victim led. A life is a life and their murder will impact the family and the community forever!
4. Avoid making clichéd statements: Here are some statements to avoid making..
“It was God’s will”
“He was with the wrong kind of people”
“You shouldn’t cry so much.”
“I understand how you feel.”
“You must be over it by now.”
“He lived the wrong kind of life.”
“You have to be strong.”
“You should let him/her rest in peace.”
“Wrong place at the wrong time”
“At least you don’t have to worry about him/her anymore.”
“You can have other Children”
You’re still young you can get married again.
While you may be trying to help, these types of statements do more harm than good.
5. Keep in touch: Do more than simply visit at the time of the funeral. Call or visit during the weeks and months ahead for these are the loneliest times. As other friends and family begin to go on with their normal routines, your calls and visits will become more valuable than you can possibly imagine.
6. Don’t rush survivors into going back to “normal: Recognize that people need to grieve at their own pace. In fact, experts say that anger, tears, confusion, guilt, restlessness, and recurring dreams are all natural and healthy parts of the grieving process.
7. Be on the lookout: Sometimes survivors of homicide victims run into a complicated grieving pattern. Watch out for signs that may indicate their grief is becoming unhealthy, such as an appetite change resulting in dramatic weight gain or loss, alcohol and drug abuse. You may need to be especially vigilant when survivors are going through unusually difficult times, e.g., birthdays, the anniversary of the murder, holidays, court proceedings, and the dreaded parole or probation process, etc.
8. Connect them with other survivors: Talking to someone who has survived the murder of a loved one can help the family realize that they are not alone.
9. Comfort the surviving children: They are grieving the murder too and they are often forgotten. Children need to express strong emotions that may seem awkward to others. Holding their hand, placing an arm around them or giving them a hug are simple ways of showing your emotional support. Be prepared for your gentle touch to set off a flood of tears that they may have been holding back. As difficult or uncomfortable as it may be for you, the greatest gift you can give the children is to give them the freedom and permission to cry openly. Being able to release their pent-up emotions will let them know that you really care and will give them the courage to cope with the difficult days that still lie ahead.
10. Support for the children at school:
Give them space.
Offer opportunities for them to meet others that have experienced a tragic death.
Hear their ideas for how you can be supportive.
Be aware that everyone is different, some students might prefer to keep their personal life and school life separate.
Be aware of appropriate time, place, and context to have conversations about their experience.
If something happens to upset the student regarding their loss, it must be addressed!
Implement the Peace Curriculum to make the school and the classroom a safe space of healing for all students.
11. Don’t Forget the Father (Stepfather): When we visit a friend or relative who is grieving, we need to remember that our compassionate presence may be the greatest gift we can give. When visiting the home of newly bereaved families engage the father/stepfather and ask how he is doing. Do not make any assumption that the father/stepfather is good and strong. REAL MEN DO CRY!
12. Remember them on special days: The first year after the murder is especially difficult. Anniversaries, birthdays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving, and religious holidays can send survivors of homicide victims reeling. What were once festive occasions may now be times of sadness and despair Call, visit, or send a brief note to the family letting them know that they are in your thoughts and/or prayers.
13. Learn about trauma, loss and grief and community resources: The more you know the better you are able to help guide survivors of homicide victims. No family should ever be left alone to figure what to do and who is there to help.
Reading Resources For Adults
Talking With Children About Loss By Maria Trozi with Kathy Massimini
Azim's Bardo: A Father's Journey From Murder to Forgiveness By Azim Khamisa
Reading Resources For Teens
Fire In My Heart, Ice In My Veins A Journal For Teens By Enid Traisman
Straight Talk About Death for Teenagers: How to Cope with Losing Someone You Love By E.A. Grollman
Reading Resources For Children
After the Funeral By Jane Loretta Winsch and Pamela T. Keating
Am I Still a Sister? By Alicia M. Sims
The Children’s Illustrated Bible
The Children’s Encyclopedia of Bible Beliefs