The Human Approach
Victims Bereaved Through Homicide
We wish to raise community awareness of the problems faced by families of victims of homicide, and the arising needs of these vulnerable members of society. We know the awful truth it can happen to anyone. Should it happen within your community, how will you respond and how can you help?
In cases of homicide, there is a primary victim (the deceased) and the secondary victims (the bereaved family). We use the word victim in both cases because it is the accepted word in all government literature. We are not for or against the word we have accepted the description and go with it.
So, what do we experience and what problems do we face? We have written this in the hope that it will increase understanding, so that other families, newly bereaved, will benefit from a more caring and supportive community.
We, the families, are thrown into a situation for which we have no experience, and - at a time of immense grief coroners, inquests, the Criminal Justice System. There is no preparation for what is to follow, this is just the beginning. It affects entire families (which includes the extended family), friends and the community surrounding the victims.
We experience the complete cut-off from life as we know it plunged into an abyss. We feel total isolation, and hardest to accept is the reality that another human being has chosen, deliberately, to kill. It is not a sentimental death, it is a violent death, purposefully executed. The victim did not deserve this unnatural death no one does.
A major shock awaits when we are told we are not allowed our loved one back, because he/she is now evidence in a criminal investigation. Our loved one is now the property of a coroner, the funeral is on indefinite hold.
We are at the mercy of a system that has long excluded us from information and participation in the process that follows. We have campaigned for many years to change this situation, and at last we are being listened to and changes are being made; but the situation remains that life for us has changed beyond description. We are left in limbo, to rely on the law, which sometimes fails us. We place our trust in the Criminal Justice System to find the truth and administer justice for our loved one. There is a desperate need to know why/how our loved one died. What happened? There is a hunger for the truth. Relatives at this time can be confused and feel excluded patience and understanding is required. This situation is upsetting for all the extended family.
The trial may not take place for many months; it may be a year or more. There is a long wait for justice to be seen to be done. Throughout this time there is an all-consuming need for the family to see justice done. We are not living, merely existing. Quite literally, it feels as though we are in a war zone. Grief is on hold here.
Basically, due to a lack of deterrents, cases of homicide have increased. This has resulted in more bereaved families. We hope that by giving an insight to the community, there will be a better understanding of this type of death. At present, most families do not receive the support they need at this time. When a family is helped correctly, they will gradually be able to cope with life as it is now.
We acknowledge that nothing can take away the overwhelming pain. However, we are expected to cope with life, unaided, whilst traumatized. Family structure is often broken as personal grief isolates each of us. Most parents at some point consider suicide: some succeed. All family members are vulnerable. So who do we turn to for help? First is a visit to the G.P., but this can be hit or miss. Some have no understanding or training to help with our situation. The doctor may hand out (at arms length) a prescription for sleeping pills, or a referral to a psychiatrist. He cannot help because we are not mentally ill. We are in shock from grief and in great physical pain. The mind, body and soul are dislocated through severe trauma, which manifests itself as a total breakdown. This is to be expected in these circumstances. The reaction of the psychiatrist to this situation is to use strong sedatives which can sometimes result in an on-going addiction to drugs. Plainly, this is unsatisfactory, if the family are to survive as a normal family. There is a need here to understand the intense grief, which in itself can kill an individual and very often does.
Anger is one emotion we can feel a strength when we feel dead inside. It takes us above a complete breakdown. Anger fires the body when the flame has gone out. It is needed. To overcome this, we need a coherent strategy to combat this act of evil which has consumed our loved ones. One mother commented recently: If I could let go, and become completely mad, perhaps someone would look after me. But we dare not let go although we see no ending, no closure. This same mother remarked how she would have loved someone just to cook her a meal, which is such a simple need.
We need to address anger, a powerful reaction. Anger because we are ignored, pushed out and crushed. We are vulnerable, in a system that perceives us as inadequate because of our situation. We are suffering the most excruciating heartache, at the same time as trying to steer a traumatized family, with all the problems this can bring. We also have to keep ahead with the Criminal Justice System, which we know nothing about. All we knew was our happy family lives. We need the community to understand this, because we know how disconcerting our anger can be. Anger is a driving force; it is also a natural response to an unnatural event, an unfathomable tragedy. It is needed.
How do you think you would react to the family of a murder victim in your community? Would you shy away from a family in distress? Day to day life becomes a struggle. It is hard to face the world outside; to walk down a street, to enter a shop. Would you cross to the other side of the road to avoid us? Sometimes, we just walk and walk, mostly at night, to avoid people. We are aware that acquaintances find it difficult to know what to say, or how to react. This is a sad situation, perhaps we could avoid it?
For those of us who are well enough to work, it is even more difficult. Be aware that a bereaved colleague is feeling isolated and may be struggling to concentrate. Will you help, or will you try to avoid the issue? Time now to react, just a smile, or a cup of tea.
What about the children in a bereaved family, after they return to school? Will you be there for each individual child whose parent or sibling has been taken by something bad? They are truly frightened, normal life is no more. No Christmas, no happiness or laughter in the home whispers of a court case, the police, a trial parents preoccupied. Sometimes a child will have been a witness to the murder that has taken place in a home. Will you be understanding, and try not to avoid these issues? Children need to talk, have their suffering acknowledged. All you need to do is listen.
We cannot give you appropriate words to say to a bereaved family, because there are no words adequate to bring comfort. Hopefully, though, with greater understanding, you will be able to react appropriately and be there for someone who may need your help.
We were where you are now before murder shattered our family. We rely on contact in our community, and help to adjust to our new lives.
There can be no closure for families of murder victims.
Nothing is usually straightforward there is always the fear that the killer will be released. Families have won the right to be told when the killers release is imminent, but along with this knowledge is disappointment and sometimes dread or fear for the lives of the surviving family. The cemetery may not be considered safe to visit alone any more. This threat is real.
Sometimes, although murder is proved, the victim is never found the killer still holds power over the family in a vice-like grip. After seven years the victim will be declared dead, but this is seen as even worse than having a grave to visit if that is possible.
Often parents and grandparents will die soon after the murder of a member of their family.
Families living without the knowledge that the killer has been brought to justice are unable to move on. They often remain in a time warp. Some families will carry on the search themselves, for maybe another court case to find the perpetrator.
Some families will be present at the death of their loved one, who may have been violently attacked and know that they are about to die. They, too, will be traumatized.
This scenario beggars belief what is worse? Saying goodbye or not being able to say goodbye? Not surprisingly, after such a traumatic ordeal, some family members may not be able to return to work. The family will be scrutinized and test by psychiatrists, because it is not considered that they have suffered.
We have tried to put the appalling picture to you, in order to explain in a short time some of the facts which you dont see on TV, or read about in books. This is the reality. Any questions?