Murder has its own attendant shock response when we first hear about it. The event is sudden, unexpected and horrifying. What only happens on television has now struck home for family survivors. It all seems surreal. In the early stages the news seems unbelievable. How could it happen that someone we love has been killed by another person? For these and other reasons, murder grief presents its own level of difficulties to be overcome.
Like a car accident resulting in death, the reality of murder delivers a powerful blow to surviving loved ones. It knocks us to our knees and leaves us baffled. Who would do such a thing to someone we love? It seems so alien to us that the reality takes some time to settle in. I dealt with several cases of murder in my 25 year career as a therapist. Each of these incidents presented a level of difficulty that no other grief experience could match.
My first case involved a man in his late thirties who came to see me accompanied by his second wife. His first wife, whom he had divorced, and their 2 children, had been murdered by her second husband. The children, a boy and a girl, were 8 and 10 years old at the time. It took a few years of working with this man to finally bring him to a satisfactory level of acceptance and peace.
The second case I encountered involved a woman in her forties whose second husband had been shot to death by a neighbour. In addition to dealing with the murder, she had also learned that her deceased husband had been making advances to the neighbour's wife. This proved to be a double blow for her. Not only did she have to deal with her husband's sudden death, but also with the reality that he had probably been unfaithful.
The third case I want to mention had a more personal relevance to me and my extended family. A first cousin, aged 22 at the time, had been stabbed to death on a local beach. Her assailant had struck while she was sunbathing and likely asleep. At the time of this incident, this perpetrator was out on bail for some other act of violence. This event shook our whole family, especially my aunt and her daughters who were directly impacted. We were all thrust into the reality that a family member had actually been murdered for no reason at all, except being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Losing a loved one to murder is horrific. Accidental death of any kind is much easier to take. The problem with murder is that someone else made the decision to take an innocent life. In our family's case it was a completely random act. The perpetrator was not known to the victim, or vice versa, something he readily admitted during the trial. The shock of losing someone to murder takes hold immediately and leaves family members totally bewildered.
The question of "why" comes up of course, but is directed at the killer rather than the victim, which is the case in suicide. People hope that by understanding the killer's motivation, they can make sense of their loved one's demise. That rarely if ever happens and here's an example.
In case #1 mentioned earlier, the father of those 2 children actually visited the killer in prison in the hopes of getting answers to that very question. He thought a face to face meeting would bring him some closure. Sadly, he came away from the encounter just as confused as ever. Talking to the killer only confirmed what the psychiatry report and my own assessment had already concluded. The killer was a mentally disturbed individual who had descended into paranoia and delusional thinking upon hearing that his wife wanted to leave him. He snapped and became a family annihilator.
There is rarely any satisfaction derived from such meetings. The motives that drive people to murder are simply not understandable to the average person who would never consider such an action. As soon as this is realized and accepted, survivors can move out of shock and into the process of murder grief The same holds true for revenge fantasies and the pursuit of justice and punishment. Although some satisfaction will be derived from a guilty verdict, the need to take care of one's grieving process remains the same. When all is said and done we victims still have to engage in grief recovery.