Six Things Friends Can Do for Homicide/Suicide Survivors in the First Weeks

Friends on the edge of trauma, looking in at someone grappling with suicide or homicide, want to help but don’t know how.  And to complicate matters, those of us in the middle of the trauma are not likely to ask for help. We recoil at feeling defenseless. We don’t want to burden anyone.  We seldom know what’s important to know.  Sometimes our discomfort causes us to push offers of help away.  Accepting or refusing help is our choice, but hopefully, we’re aware of our needs and our helpers’ intentions.

The truth is, there are many practical and important ways close friends can help us in the early hours and weeks following a homicide or suicide. We can rely on our helpers to think ahead with the understanding that we have the last word about all decisions.

Here are six specific ways that helpful energy can be offered but controlled. (Adapt to meet your situation.)

But first a word of context.  It needs to be understood that offers of help are not demands.  We have the last say.  Suggestions and actions should never be forced.  We already have experienced a loss of control due to the death of our loved one.  We don’t want that intensified.  Helpers should remain calm, refrain from a lot of talking or touching, and stay steadfast during grief spasms (which will pass).

Here are six ways friends can help:

1)  Encourage us to be mindful of our health.  We need to take in fluids and eat small, healthy meals. This is especially important if we’re diabetic or have kidney problems.  We need to take our regular prescriptions on schedule and try to rest.  We’re going to need energy.  This is a marathon, not a sprint.  And our friend can recommend we make an appointment with our regular health care provider soon because the stress is likely to make old health problems worse, and invite new ones.  Suggesting we pace is a safe way to drain off tension. They should gently discourage drug or alcohol use. They can help create a peaceful environment by turning down lights, putting on calming music, and closing drapes. Volumes on the t.v. and phone should be low.

2)  Help ensure our safety.  In the midst of all that is happening, we can let our guard down. If we’ve lost someone to murder, the perpetrator could still be out there.  But even if he or she is in custody they’re likely to have supporters. They may assume we have evidence to use in court, or that we directed law enforcement to achieve the arrest.  Simple things like locking doors/windows, putting outside lights on at night, locking our car, running errands for us, keeping an eye on our dog when outside, and ensuring our cell phone is charged can be reassuring. If unsettling developments occur, friends can help document what’s going on in the event it escalates. Have a plan of action if that should occur.

3) Screen social interactions.  With our permission, our friend can pay attention to the door and phone.  We only need one phone turned on (at low volume).  We do not need nosey neighbors, coworkers or media at our door.  A friend can post a note on the door directing people to respect our privacy.  In the same vein, they can recommend we change our outgoing phone message or turn it off altogether for at least several hours.  Let messages to go voicemail. Discuss the advantages of taking down all social media accounts, at least temporarily.  (See blog post from September 10, 2023).  A friend can ask us if there is someone we’d like them to get ahold of (such as our child’s teacher, our pastor or attorney).

4) Research needed resources.  In the next few days we may be burdened with decisions regarding funeral services, cremation services, purchase of a casket and so forth.  This is much more complicated if the person who died is at a geographic distance. At this early juncture, the helper can research information for us without prematurely forcing any decision.  (See blog post from August 28, 2023 for more information).  They can also help us connect with our Crime Victim Advocate through the local sheriff’s office, police department, or district attorney.  Another avenue is to contact NOVA  National Organization for Victim Assistance at www.try-nova.org/ or 1800-879-6682 or 800-851-3420.  If the person who died was a child, contacting POMC Parents of Murdered Children is well worth a call at 513-721-5683 or online at www.pomc.org/

5) Make a list of important information.  Since our head is likely to be “spinning” from the shock of the loss, we’re going to be disorganized.  A friend can make a list of all important contacts and dates.  For example, the list could contain the names and phone numbers of the assigned detective, victim advocate, school counselor, and coroner.  It may remind us we have a meeting with the district attorney, our physician or our chaplain. It could list the name of the family spokesperson or funeral home if one has been selected.  A secondary list could contain important documents we’ll need in the near future such as life insurance policies, car title of the deceased, house title, credit monitoring services, birth certificates, marriage certificates, adoption papers of minor children, passwords to the deceased email (to deactivate it) and so on.

6) Be a sounding board.  Above all else, we need close friends to bear witness. We don’t need advice. We don’t need decisions prematurely pushed on us. We don’t need to be told “everything will be okay.”  And, for goodness sake, we don’t need to hear “I know just how you feel” unless you’ve been through the same ordeal. We need accompaniment.  We need connection. We need someone to patiently, and compassionately listen without judgment.  There are very few places we can turn to for this vital need.

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:   https://www.amazon.com/What-Now-Navigating-Aftermath-Homicide-ebook/dp/B0BXND9DQR

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!