For Families of Murdered Children

There is very little life experience which can prepare you for the range of responses you may feel after the devastating loss of a loved one by murder. Therefore you may worry about your reactions or question your sanity. Family members and friends probably will not understand homicide grief or know how to support you as they may not realize that your responses are normal.

Severe shock and disbelief are often the first feelings experienced after a violent death, which is unexpected, traumatic and terrifying. This is followed by extreme anger and helplessness once the realisation sinks in. Outrage and fearfulness, especially if your child has been victimized, are also felt.

Try to weigh up how realistic you are being if you are experiencing a sense of guilt or self-accusation. Be careful not to load yourself unrealistically with the responsibility for your child/sibling’s death. Your pain is enough to deal with without adding to it.

It also often happens that blame is attached to the victim, usually by people who have little knowledge of what actually happened. It seems that the perpetrator and his family receive sympathy and the victim and family are considered of little or no importance. This is particularly so in the case of the judicial system. The victim’s family is seldom advised of dates of court cases, etc. It is entirely your decision whether you attend or perhaps obtain copies of the proceedings to read at a later date, if so desired.

The terrible anger felt may also lead to thoughts of revenge but, while these thoughts are natural and normal, to act on them is not. This will not bring your child back to you nor will it help them. They would not want it either.

It will almost certainly help if you can discuss your feelings with a close friend or relative or somebody who has been there, such as The Compassionate Friends (TCF).

It is quite normal to suffer physical pain, such as feelings as if one’s heart is actually broken or abdominal pain.

Anger is an emotion which is almost always felt by parents who lose a child. This is particularly so in the case of a death of violence. It is healthy to find some way of releasing this anger, such as writing letters expressing feelings about the death of your beloved child – perhaps writing to a relative or close friend or even to your dead child. It is important to tell your story and not bury it inside yourself.

Sometimes you may feel anger at the media who are not always sympathetic and sometimes report from a sensational point of view, perhaps even favouring the killer.

Anger is protest – an attempt to ward off the devastating reality and to undo an event which is untimely and unwarranted.


It is possible to work through your grief. You are changed by the experience. But the ability to heal is never lost. Your wounds will become scars which you will always bear but they are bearable. It will help you to cope if you accept that you will come through this nightmare and can make the choice to find life meaningful again. Deal with each day step by step and do not look far ahead.

As a family, talk about the death to each other; talk about your loss and your pain. Talk about the good times you remember as well as the not so good. All family members will be grieving in their own manner. Try to understand this. It is better to express feelings rather than to internalize them. Crying is healthy and therapeutic.

It may be beneficial to become involved with a mutual help group, such as The Compassionate Friends. Apart from the regular monthly meetings of all bereaved parents and siblings, The Compassionate Friends (TCF) also runs a monthly Homicide Group. Through sharing with others who have walked the same path, you may gain understanding of your reactions and learn ways to cope. Seek professional help and family counselling if necessary.

Give yourself time – time – and more time. It takes months, even years, to open your heart and mind to healing. Choose to survive, give yourself time, and you will heal.

As mentioned before – it may be helpful to write out your feelings or write a letter to your dead child, expressing all the things you were not able to say before the death. For many, it is a good way to say good-bye.

Let friends help. When they ask what they can do to help, don’t be afraid to tell them of your needs and what will help you. It will also help them.

This brochure was funded by ITHUBA

Copyright 1996 The Compassionate Friends Johannesburg Chapter