Survivor’s Grief

 when we have remembered everything

we grow afraid

of what we may forget.

A face, a voice, a smile?

No need to fear forgetting.


The heart remembers always.




Someone you love has been murdered or was killed by a drunk or reckless driver. It is an understatement to say that your life has been changed. Your anger and pain are deep, and it will take a great deal of hard work and time to recover. You may never feel as if you have “recovered.” It may be difficult to believe now, but many persons who have been in your situation learn to “manage their grief” you will need time, determination, and the support of a caring listener. (it is very important to be able to speak with someone freely, without judgment, about your child, your feelings and about your child’s death.  It took me almost a year before I could really manage my grief. You take it one day at a time and one day you will realize you have gone a couple of hours or a half day and then a day without breaking down.)



In the beginning, most people feel a profound numbness. Some say it is like “being in a fog.” It may be this fog that allows you to accomplish the necessary arrangements for the funeral and other duties.


Thank God for this fog because when the fog clears your feelings to fall into turmoil. You may have flashbacks of the moment you were notified of your loved one’s death, or of the last time, you saw your loved one alive. You may visualize how your loved one died and if they suffered. You may deny that your loved one really is dead and that he or she will soon “walk through that door.”I would have nightmares of my son being shot in the head over and over and I would pray that God did not let him suffer.  Even after eighteen months, I still have a hard time accepting that my child is dead and he will not be coming home anymore. In a way I think that is how I chose to deal with Phillip’s death, just never accept it. 


You may experience grief spasms, crying as if you couldn’t stop. The spasms gradually will come further apart. You may have panic attacks. You may be restless and unable to concentrate on anything. You may be unable to sleep at night or find it very hard to get out of bed in the morning. For the first several months you cannot control your crying, it’s going to happen and you have no control over the place or time. I took medication to help me sleep and for panic attacks.  I developed a fear of being out by myself.  My husband drives everywhere. This has been the case until recently and I am trying to conquer this fear.

As the reality of death sinks in, depression is usually not far behind. The world may seem to lose its meaning for you. Activities that you once enjoyed may seem like a burden, or you may stop all activities that you once enjoyed. You may feel as if there is little point in going on, or you may want to withdraw from everyone. Your life has changed, your mind is occupied only with thoughts of your child. You probably will not have the energy or the interest in activities. You cannot stand the thought of enjoying anything, your child has been murdered.


During all of these emotions and phases, you need to talk with someone who will listen with a non-judgmental ear. Talking helps keep you from getting stuck in one of the phases. I can not stress the importance of having someone to talk openly with.


You will probably experience a great need to understand why this tragedy happened. In your search for understanding, you may feel the need to know everything there is to know about what happened, where it happened and who did it. If someone is arrested, you may want to know as much as you can find out about the person. I searched and saved every article that was in the paper. I needed to know every detail that surrounded my son’s death. I posted my child’s picture in every memorial I could find. For the first several months all my husband and I talked about was “how did this happen”? Why was this man out on probation when he should have been serving a 10-year sentence? How did he get his gun with a felony record? I wanted everyone (and still do) from the Judge, who gave the probation, to the murderer who committed the crime, to the detectives that gave out false reports to the newspapers that it was a professional hit, it was drug related etc. to pay for the death of my son 

You may expect the criminal justice system to work more quickly and keep you informed better than it does.

Rumors and opinions of many people may come your way concerning the crime, motivation and the criminal. You may decide to attend the trial, if there is one, as part of your search for why this happened. Oftentimes you will not find answers to all of your questions. If a survivor is a witness at the trial, he or she may not be able to attend the trial prior to giving testimony. You can ask the county or district attorney handling the case for information on this.



Each survivor lives with “what-ifs.” “Why did I let her go home alone?” “What if I had been there with him?” This is a normal reaction. Please remember that no one can predict the future or recreate what might have been. We can’t change the events that took place, and to continue blaming ourselves will only be destructive to yourself and those around you.
I have yet to go one day without guilt, not necessarily guilt from what happened to my son but just guilt for anything over the years.  Maybe I feel guilt over being too strict or maybe guilt over spending more on his brother etc. Things will come back to me and I will think why didn’t I handle that differently. Only a parent who has lost a child understands.  To have a day without guilt is a good day.



Anger can be both frightening and motivation. Sometimes it may feel as if anger will overwhelm you. It may be directed at the murdered, society, the criminal justice system, family members or friends. It is not uncommon to be angry at God. Many people feel guilty about their anger, but it is a completely normal feeling that many people experience.

Anger may immobilize you or move you to relentless activity. It is a natural reaction to severe loss. Your anger may never completely go away. With time and support, your anger can be managed and may even contribute to helping you gain back some control in your life.


For the first time in their lives, many survivors find themselves thinking of ways to kill another human being, the person responsible for the death of your loved one. Understandably, some people are deeply disturbed by their emotion. You may wonder if you are losing your mind. You aren’t. You are normal. Counselors of survivors find that almost every person they work with thinks about revenge. Having these feelings does not mean you are going to act on them.

Some people will tell you that wanting revenge is unhealthy and that the only way you can find peace is to forgive. If forgiveness is in your heart, fine, but do not allow people to place unnecessary guilt on you. Chances are they have never been through what you are experiencing.


When a family member is a victim of a homicide, not all families become closer in the aftermath of the death. It is not unusual for counselors to see families separate, both physically and emotionally. At this time, communication is very important. Work hard to express your feelings within the family and with supportive friends.



When you hurt, you turn to people who have always been there, your friends. But where are they a month, six months or a year after the murder? Often, they have gone back to their lives, but you still need to talk. Many times friends don’t know how to react and feel that steering away from mentioning the victim is the best way to handle the situation. Wrong this is not the best way to handle the situation. We always need to talk about our children.

If you bring up the homicide, some people will change the subject. Many people do not want to listen to the details of the tragedy, even though survivors often need to talk about details. People often can’t bring themselves to talk about homicide. They may feel they do not have the words to say or the ability to listen. They may feel hopelessly inadequate. And the loss of your loved one probably hit them with stark reality. If it happened to you, it could happen to them.

You may notice that people you have known for years avoid you on the street or in a store. Your co-workers may avert their eyes and “not see you” they usually have no idea that this feels like rejection and only adds to your grief. This hurts terribly when people you have known for years avoid you because you have lost a child. What are you suppose to do act like you never had a child?  I am very proud of my child and always will be even if he is no longer on this earth.

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You can face this problem in various ways. You can write these friends off and stop seeing them. You can continue contact but avoid the subject you most need to discuss. You can raise the issue directly with your friends, which may allow you to deal openly and honestly with each other. You can add to your circle of friends other people who have lost loved ones or who are willing to share your experience… Many people are ready to respond when they understand how important it is to talk with you about the experience rather than avoid it. I found that true friends listen to you no matter how often you talk about your child because they understand and they care about you. Many community hospitals have grief support groups for family members who have lost someone they love. Not all members of these groups have lost a loved one to violence, but nonetheless feel the pain, shock, guilt, and anger that you are experiencing. Consider joining a grief support group.


The first time you celebrate a holiday after a death, it may become a nightmare. Holiday gifts that once were ripped open immediately may set for days. Thanksgiving is hollow. “What do I have to be thankful for?” is a common reaction for the survivor. New Year’s Day and birthdays, which celebrate another year of life become reminders of death.

You may find the need to develop new traditions. For some, a trip out-of-town at holiday-time may be beneficial. A birthday can be observed by donating to a charitable organization or doing something that is meaningful to you. Sometimes being with other family members and talking together about the good times experienced in the past can be a source of strength. There is no rule to follow on how to “get through” a holiday. You will grieve. Allow yourself to grieve. It’s all part of the healing process.

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Your life has changed. You will see things differently now. You may never again want to watch violence portrayed on TV. You may have to struggle with new or stronger prejudices for the rest of your life. You may feel irritated by “the little things” in life. Or, incidents that once seemed to be a catastrophe will be only minor aggravations because you have already survived the worst.

Your faith may be shaken. You may find it impossible to trust strangers. You may feel that laws you thought were designed to protect you are really designed to protect criminals. You may wonder if the victim has any rights. Most survivors heal slowly. Meaning comes back into their daily activities. The find people to stand by them and give them support. Some find sensitivity for others they never experienced before. Most find joy in the treasured memories of their loved ones. Many join others who want to carry on the vigil for all of those who have died as the result of violence.



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