Beyond normal grief and bereavement,
survivors of homicide face burdens and complications that, for most, will change their
lives forever. The senselessness of murder almost guarantees a long term negative outcome
for the surviving family, including the children, unless professional help and guidance is
sought. Further, as the willful destruction of a family member by another human being is
so devastating to the family unit, it is almost impossible to consider the problems and
needs of the children separately from those of the family. For this reason, information
fir both has been included.
Bereavement Complications of the Family
1. Due to the overwhelming nature of the
event, each family member tends to shut down and cope in his/her own way, causing
breakdowns in family communication and mutual support.
2. Blame and assignment of guilt are common reactions as family members question what they
or other family members could have done to prevent the murder.
3. Social support may be withdrawn due to the stigma of murder, which tends to blame and
assign guilt to the victim.
4. Extreme anger and rage is felt by the survivors along with an intense desire for
revenge and retribution. These feelings often convince survivors that they are "going
crazy," and many fear that they will direct these emotions to other family members.
5. Survivors feel helpless, fearful, impotent, and vulnerable. The concept of personal
control is severely damaged, sometimes irrevocably.
6. The murderer may not be identified or apprehended, leaving the family angry,
frustrated, and fearful, sometimes for years.
7. If the murderer is apprehended, it can sometimes take many years to litigate the case
through the justice system.
8. Lack of familiarity with the legal process further complicates normal grief.
Interaction with the medical investigator/coroner, police, the prosecutor, and other
participants in the legal system are unsettling and frustrating.
9. The trial experience itself can be traumatic as the family relives the murder,
including photographs, autopsy reports, and details of the event.
10. Delays and appeals, inadequate sentencing, media coverage, and lack of public sympathy
and support all contribute to protracted and complicated bereavement.
Bereavement Complications of Children
1. As part of the family unit, children
feel the tension, anxiety, confusion, lack of support, and apprehension, regardless of
their developmental stage or ability to understand the event.
2. Parents may be so devastated by the murder that their ability to meet their children's
emotional needs is limited. Often, this withdrawal of support is more devastating to the
child than the event itselt.
3. Most children will not complete the bereavement "tasks" at the time of the
event, but will do so during each subsequent developmental stage until adulthood.
Intants may respond with heightened anxiety or agitated and aggressive behavior , e.g.,
biting, cyring, throwing objects, etc.
Children 2 - 5 years often act out traumatic events through play. In addition, they
may demonstrate negative behavioral characteristics (clinging, demanding to be held,
wanting to sleep with the parent, etc.) and regressive behavior (bedwetting, refusing to
feed, wash, or dress themselves). Sleep disturbances and nightmares are also common.
Changes in daily routines may be threatening.
Children 6 - 10 years may exhibit radical behavior changes. They may exhibit
uncontrolled behavior, poor school performance, nd physical symptoms such as headaches,
stomach aches, and dizziness. Play is still the primary means of expression. Trust in
adults may be diminished.
Children 11 and over are in the midst of adolescence, a confusing and troubling
period. Younger adolescents may try to deny reality by suppressing their emotions and
becoming judgmental about their behavior. Older adolescents become judgmental about
others' behavior as well and become cautious and suspicious, especially about adults. Some
may try to relieve their pain and gain control by trying to behave like an adult; others
may regress to an earlier developmental stage.