One of the first things a survivor of murder-suicide feels is shock. I know, for me, my brain could not wrap around the fact that my father had taken his life. It was beyond comprehension that he has also murdered my stepmother. Murder. It was a crime against nature, and my father had done it. The shock, which still hasn’t completely gone away, was soon accompanied by shame and a sense of isolation.
When I finally dared to put myself out there – via personal stories – in hopes of finding others who shared my experience, I no longer felt so alone. Survivors of murder-suicide loss not only found me, but reached out to me after reading my essays and blogs. Many of them have helped my healing, and for that I am grateful.
The following post was co-written by several murder-suicide loss survivors with the intent of helping educate those in survivors’ support systems. In it, we share what would have been most helpful – and what was not helpful – after our initial loss. We have joined in a single voice that we hope reflects anyone who has experienced the tragic loss of a loved one to murder-suicide or any sensationalized, traumatic loss. We cannot and do not speak for all survivors.
I’m a survivor of murder-suicide loss writing this letter to the person who wants to show up for me, but doesn’t know how. Maybe we work together, and you’re not sure what to say. Maybe you’ve known me for decades and want to be supportive. Maybe you’re my aunt, my brother-in-law, my grandmother, or my neighbor.
First, thank you for taking the time to find ways to support me. I know you love me and mean well, so don’t take it personally if I do not react to you in ways you would typically expect of me. I have been through a shock and need time to adjust to a new reality.
There were many things I couldn’t do or express in the depths of my immediate suicide loss. As time has gone on, I’ve thought more about what I couldn’t do and say. If I were to design a supportive person after the murder-suicide loss, it would look something like this:
Somebody who wants to show up
It’s ok if you don’t know, but take time to become aware, or be willing to do the work to understand the complicated stigma surrounding suicide and my loss.
To start, read the SPEAK organization’s explanation of the four S’s here: Secrecy, silence, shame, and stigma. This will help understand some of what I’m facing, even if I don’t completely know it yet.
Somebody who is resourceful
Finding and reading this post is a good start. You can also read and share other murder-suicide survivor stories with me, when you’re sure I’m ready. Here’s some to get started:
- Read: “I’m finally ready to talk about how my parents died”
- Read: “Breaking the silence as a survivor of murder-suicide loss”
- Watch: Singer-songwriter Allison Moorer talks about the loss of her parents to murder-suicide
- Watch: Survivor Sara Cobb speaks about her murder-suicide loss
Somebody who will stick around
I’ll be overwhelmed with condolences, but the initial support will go away. When it does, I’ll feel more alone than ever. My loss will always be with me. You aren’t bothering me when you check in. If you remember my dad’s birthday, my mom’s passing date, or how much my sister loved Christmas, you can text or call me. When my brother’s favorite team wins the Superbowl, you can reach out to me. It’s not weird, I promise. It matters.
Somebody who will stick up for me
If you hear people gossiping about me, shut them down. If you see people getting excited by the sensationalism of the situation, say something. Thanks for remembering I am a person and understanding my grief is real.
Somebody who will support my grief
Be willing to do a bit of homework to understand grief, and support me in public or in private – or both. Here is a good piece to read, to start from the SPEAK organization.
I hope this will help you show up for me in a meaningful way. Thank you for taking the time to listen, learn, and for being you.