Coping with the Tragic Death of a Parent

I know I am not the only person coping with the loss of a parent to suicide. I know there are many of us, and we cope with the trauma of the loss of a parent just as anyone would. Only it can feel the wounds are more profound because we are left with questions that no one can answer. Even fewer of us lose parents to suicide with the knowledge that a beloved person also committed murder. How do we grieve?

In the weeks and months following the loss of my father and stepmother to murder-suicide by my father’s hand, when nothing was right, I had mornings. Somewhere, in the sweet blurriness between my brain waking up while my eyes remained shut after a deep sleep, there was peace. My mind could be blank. I could be still. 

Then there was the daily jolt into reality, a new reality. This was real. This had happened. They were gone and my life felt shattered. 

It felt selfish to think of myself after such a tragedy, but as I worked on confronting the truth, I learned this is the collateral damage of murder-suicide loss. Additionally, the events are often sensationalized, fanning the flames of shame for the survivors left behind. As I obsessively examined what had happened, I began to tell myself something awful. Something I believed: “I will never be ok.”

Survivors of murder-suicide are in many ways condemned to a limbo of emotion. We can’t accept sympathy from people because we don’t feel we deserve it. Many of us feel it is as if we are the ones responsible for the crime. We may experience enormous anger and betrayal that we can’t express even to those closest to us. To this day, I don’t feel comfortable sharing my grief with many of the others who were left behind from the murder-suicide loss in my life. There were others who shared love for my father. Yet we can’t comfort each other.  

Many months after the tragedies, I treated myself to a tiny framed quote by Leonard Cohen. Cohen, the musician, best known for his haunting rendition of “Hallelujah,” died a few years earlier. For me, his words of compassion lifted me to a new place of healing. I had no idea how to ask for help or articulate what I needed to those close to me. But I had to have hope. 

            Ring the bells that still can ring

            Forget your perfect offering

            There is a crack, a crack in everything

            That’s how the light gets in

That’s when I changed my morning routine, replacing, “I will never be ok” with this new mantra. It helped carry me through even when I felt alone. And I still think of it today. After the darkest days, I found comfort and understanding through the network I’ve built with other survivors, grief counseling, and supportive friends and family.

I found light in the authentic connections I’ve made with other survivors of murder-suicide loss.The first step for me was learning I was not alone. Others shared my experience, and we all needed to accept that we did not cause the tragedies and could not have prevented them. 

In my next post I will share a message I wrote together with other survivors. After revealing our experiences about our initial losses, we co-authored this post with the intent of helping educate people in our support systems – the survivors’ support systems. In it, we share what would have been most helpful – and what was not helpful – during those most difficult days. 

People on the outside mean well but they can’t always understand where we are emotionally. This is true for anyone who has experienced trauma. Although this was written by murder-suicide loss survivors, the authors strongly feel this could apply to anybody surviving a traumatic or sensationalized loss, especially those that garner media attention. We do not and cannot speak for all survivors. 

Our perspective is intended for those who feel helpless around us but want to help. Perhaps if you had insight into our point of view, you can better support our healing process. We want to be close to you. We may just not know how. Sometimes we just need space to go inward. Sometimes a hug will work. If we don’t respond the way you expect please don’t take it personally. But, please don’t stop trying to be there for us.

I am grateful to each person who worked on this, and the part they have played in my healing.

If you are a survivor of murder-suicide loss, we hope you know you are not alone.