Primary Care Providers’ Assistance of Homicide Co-Victims

A patient who has recently experienced the murder of a loved one would do well to turn to their primary care provider for help.  Too few survivors take this important step.  Hopefully, friends of the co-victim will make such a recommendation and offer to drive them to the appointment if necessary.

There are at least six important ways a PCP could help in a fifteen-minute appointment.

The acronym “murder” will aid in remembering the six objectives. 


“What’s going on with your (previous) XYZ conditions?”

“Anything new develop?”

The two-way mind-body connection is well known and painfully obvious when a person is under acute stress.  Assess worsening of premorbid conditions and new complaints, such as insomnia, teeth grinding or gastrointestinal upset.  Of course, dehydration, poor diet, noncompliance with prescribed meds, smoking and drug abuse will only intensify these setbacks.  It doesn’t hurt to ask about thoughts of self-harm, especially if they have been depressed or have additional risk factors.


Is there reason to worry about your safety?” 

In some instances, the still-on-the-loose perpetrator or their supporters can harm homicide survivors over retribution, the belief they have incriminating evidence, to prevent them from cooperating with law enforcement or to stop them from testifying at trial.  The days after the homicide and the days leading up to the trial are especially tense.  It’s common for homicide co-victims to overlook the most basic precautions like leaving yard lights on, being accompanied while in public, and so on.  This is made worse by media attention. Safety needs are something a good friend can assist with.  If necessary, encourage them to document their concerns and reach out to the assigned homicide detective.


It’s wise not to go this alone.”

Encourage them to meet with a victim advocate, trauma-informed mental health professional, support group, victims’ rights attorney, or clergy to assist them.  The new homicide co-victim is starting a long-distance marathon, not a sprint, and they are likely woefully unprepared.  It’s common for friends, neighbors, and coworkers to begin distancing themselves from the homicide survivor within three months of the death.  Families who’ve lost someone to murder become “that” family in “that” house with “that scandal.”  One way to prepare for this is to enrich their support system early.


“There are some do-it-yourself ways to reduce stress at home.”

Reduce their crisis response by encouraging them to try calming techniques such as deep breathing, listening to music, accompanied daily walks in nature, journaling, yoga, planned periods of turning off their phone, avoiding social media and limiting their exposure to the news.  People who’ve just lost someone to homicide feel a loss of control.  Reminding them to de-escalate is a subtle way of returning some control over their situation.


“I’d like to see you again in three weeks.”

Inform the homicide co-victim when they need to return to see you.  What should they be looking out for in the meantime?


“There are resources out there to help.”

Encourage the griever to connect with community resources.  You may know of some local resources or have an in-house social worker.  They should contact the District Attorney’s Office to reach their victim advocate if they haven’t done so already.

Here are some additional national groups for information and assistance:

     Directory of Crime Victim Services……………………………….

     National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.  1-888-818-POMC


     The Compassionate Friends………………………………………….  1-877-969-0010

     My book, “What Now?” is available on Amazon

Do not underestimate the importance of your calm presence in the face of this unimaginable tragedy.  Homicide survivors feel adrift, frightened, exhausted, and confused.  In short order, they will feel stigmatized, embarrassed, and angry.

Empathy has no script. There is no right or wrong way to do it.

It’s simply listening, holding space,

and calmly communicating that incredibly healing message of

‘You’re not alone.’

—Brene Brown

For more detailed information and for other resources, please refer to my book What Now? Navigating the Aftermath of Homicide and Suicide, available now on Amazon.

Click this Amazon link:

I’m Jan Canty. Psychologist, author, podcast host, speaker…  and homicide survivor.

I am passionate about finding ways to support and help other so-called “homicide or suicide survivors.”

No one should have to go through this kind of loss… but if you do, I want you to know… YOU ARE NOT ALONE! 

You aren’t crazy. It’s not your imagination! Society does not know how to comfort us. Fortunately, we know how to comfort one another.

Check out my books and get tools and resources to help you or someone you love!