There’s a common, persistent myth that homicide (and suicide) survivors receive immediate, lasting and meaningful support from extended family and friends. When this fails to happen, people assume it’s them. No. That is far from the truth. It’s almost universal.
What follows are five common reasons that estrangement develops between the homicide survivor and their wider “support system” sooner rather than later.
What starts as an alarming loss with a gush of support dissolves into an awkward, disgraceful blemish in the neighborhood within a few months. We become “that family” in “that house” with “that scandal.” Most friends start to distance themselves from us to protect their own reputation and because they don’t know how to approach us. In essence, we become the poster child for crime in our neighborhood.
But it works in both directions. We often pull away from others, too. This can be due to fatigue, stress, shame, or being over-extended with a multitude of simultaneous demands on our time. And most of us grow weary of answering repetitive, probing questions, especially from people not in the need to know. The media exposure intensifies this quagmire.
Second, the sheer rarity of murder causes loneliness, too. Who do we personally know that has been through this? How often have our healthcare providers dealt with the aftermath of homicide? Hollywood sure doesn’t equip us to know the truth. Ignorance leads to assumptions, myths, misunderstandings, and bad advice. We struggle to find appropriate professional support and peers who “get it.” We can feel orphaned because of the disconnect. The rarity of murder reinforces our differentness.
Told to Keep It in Check
In addition, investigators, attorneys, employers, and others expect us to stuff our reactions. We’re warned it will “jeopardize the investigation,” “cause a mistrial,” “harm our children,” or “distract our coworkers.” The swallowing and minimizing of our feelings widen the gap between us and those around us. We walk on eggshells. This sets the stage for health issues like insomnia, hypertension, worsens diabetes, and triggers indigestion. Others looking in on our situation feel better when we aren’t a bundle of nerves. We work hard to accommodate others at our own peril.
Fear of Reprisal
Fourth, even when the perpetrator is apprehended, they have their supporters. Many of us fear retaliation for “causing” the arrest or to prevent us from coming forward with evidence. So, we’re hypervigilant. Reassurances from detectives, neighbors, attorneys and others mean little at 3:00 a.m. when we hear an unusual car door or voices outside our house. At the end of the day, this is our risk.
Last, our culture does a pitiful job of understanding grief from any cause, but when it is from violent death? With violent death our society fumbles completely. As a result, people say the most hurtful remarks without even realizing or intending to do so. Some of my podcast guests have reported being told the following:
“I’m sorry for the loss of your husband, but you’re young. Someone else will come along.”
“Well, look on the bright side. Now you won’t be preoccupied and worried about where your son is in the middle of the night.”
“I know how you feel. My grandfather passed away last year following a long battle with heart disease.”
“It’s a good thing you have two other children.”
“This time next year you’ll be good as new.”
“Take comfort from the fact that your parents had a long and happy life before this happened.”
In summary, if you’re feeling lonely in your grief you are not alone! Loneliness stems from being disconnected, misunderstood, judged, and overwhelmed.
There is hope. Join a virtual or in-person support group with other homicide survivors. Stay as physically active as you can. Journal feelings, activities and thoughts. Read firsthand accounts of others who have been confronted with a similar experience. (Suggestions are below.) Examine your expectations and their source. Set firm boundaries with people who need them the most.
A reasonable goal is to be managing better six months from now. If not, take an inventory of your behaviors, thoughts, diet, social connections and activity level. Be sure you make sleep a top priority and refuel with a healthy diet, and hydration in adequate portions. If you feel professional help is warranted, seek out a licensed “trauma-informed” therapist with at least a master’s degree who is experienced in helping homicide co-victims.
Do not equate loneliness with unworthiness
Sample of first-person narrative books by homicide survivors:
Canty, J. A Life Divided (2020). (homicide of husband)
Edwards-Jorgensen, S. Beautiful Ashes (2022) (homicide of mother from domestic violence)
Godwin-Baines, T. From Grief to Grace (2020) (father murdered on Facebook Live by a stranger)
Hadley, R. & Yearick, D. Thousand Fireflies (2015) (murder of parents by sibling)
McCall, K. For the Love of Family (2019) (murder of son while away at college)
Morton, M. Getting Life (2014) (wrongful imprisonment for murder of spouse)
Pusey, M. While We Slept (2019) (murder of mother-in-law from brain-damaged father-in-law)
Sackman, B. Behind the Murder Curtain (2020) (murder of patients by their physician)
Wilson, K. The Rage Less Traveled (2019) (survivor of a terrorist attack and witness to murder)