In the wake of the ever-increasing number of homicides in Boston and across the country, the Peace Institute would like to address the friends and families whose loved ones have been murdered. Countless lives are affected, from siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, to coworkers, friends, classmates, teammates, and neighbors. We all deal with sudden and tragic death differently: shock, anger, revenge, self-blame, and shame are all parts of the seemingly endless flood of emotions. The pain of grief is felt emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Often when someone we care about is grieving, we don’t know how to reach out to him or her. Because of this, we may unwittingly end up doing or saying the wrong things. Below are suggestions, compiled by survivors of homicide victims. While they may sound like common sense, this advice is coming directly from those who have been there.
Say little on an early visit: Your brief embrace, a press of your hand, and a few words of sympathy can speak more than you know.
Do not probe too harshly for details about the death: If information is offered, all you need to do is listen with sympathy, compassion, and understanding.
Comfort the surviving children: They are grieving too and they are often forgotten. They 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 help them to feel better and to cope with the difficult days that still lie ahead.
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.
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 a newly bereaved family engages the father/stepfather and asks how he is doing. Do not make any assumption that the father/stepfather is good and strong.
Statements to avoid making to, or in the presence of, the family:
“It was God’s will.”
“He was with the wrong kind of people.”
“You shouldn’t cry so much.”
“I understand how you feel.”
“He lived the wrong kind of life.”
“You have to be strong.”
“Wrong place at the wrong time.”
“He was known to police.”
“At least you don’t have to worry about him anymore.”
While you may be trying to help, these types of declarations usually do more harm than good.
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, or 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, etc.
Learn about loss and grief: This is a natural part of life. The more you know the better you are able to help.
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.
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. Grollman, E. A. (1993). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.
Reading Resources For Children
After the Funeral;Jane Loretta Winsch, Pamela T. Keating (Illustrator)
Am I Still a Sister? Alicia M. Sims
The Children’s Illustrated Bible- The Children’s Encyclopedia of Bible Beliefs