If you’ve experienced the death of a loved one due to gun violence, please accept our sincere condolences. No one should have to go through this experience, and the journey you are beginning is likely the most difficult you will ever have. Your emotions are likely intense and wide-ranging, from shock and anger to gut-wrenching grief and helplessness. All of your emotions are normal. They may also be very different from the emotions experienced by others who were close to your loved one. This, too, is normal.
Your funeral director will play an important role in helping you begin your journey. They will offer steady, compassionate support as you begin to grieve your unimaginable loss. They will also clearly present your options for honoring your loved one, taking care of every detail to ensure your focus is where it should be – being with family and friends and beginning to mourn.
It is important to note that homicides and mass-shootings usually require investigation by law enforcement; therefore, the body of a loved one may not be released to the funeral director as quickly as a family might hope, especially if an autopsy needs to be performed. Your funeral director will take on the responsibility for keeping in touch with law enforcement and keeping the family apprised regarding when the funeral director will take the person into their care.
If your loved one was a victim of a mass-shooting or other violent mass-fatality incident, your grief will likely be very complex. It may also be compounded by the attention the incident will receive from the public, the media and others.
Feeling united in your grief with other families and individuals who also experienced the death of a loved one can be very helpful as you embark on this incredibly complex and difficult journey. If you would like others who have lost a loved one to be part of your support network, by all means seek them out and determine if you have a mutual interest in supporting each other. Keep in mind, however, that you have individual needs, and your grief is your own. How you experience it may vary widely from how others experience their own grief. You may find that seeking support from others who also experienced a loss is too difficult and prevents you from adequately addressing your own grief. Or you may wish to make connections with them down the road.
You may also make different funeral and service choices than others who experienced a loss. While one family may choose to have a funeral shortly after the death, another may choose to have a memorial service in the future. Yet another may choose to not have a service. Your choices should be your own, based on the needs of you, your family and friends.
When a sudden, violent death occurs, it can sometimes seem easier to move on quickly and not have a funeral or memorial service. However, it is well documented that having a service helps the individual’s loved ones accept the death and begin to grieve. In traumatic circumstances, a gathering of mourners can be even more important. Before making a decision about a funeral or other tribute, learn more about the Value of a Service and discuss this decision with family and friends who may want to weigh in regarding their own wishes and needs. You may determine that you want to hold a service right away, or you may wish to have a bit more time to plan and hold an event a few weeks or months after the death. The important thing to note is that whenever you hold a service, it can be a very cathartic experience that will help you move forward on this incredibly difficult journey.
Young people have needs as well when it comes to mourning a loved one. We may think children will easily “get over it,” but that’s not necessarily the case. Involve children in the decision-making process regarding how to honor the life of a loved one. To learn more about how you can involve children and youth in a funeral or memorial service, visit Youth & Funerals.
Important note: Depending on the circumstances of the death and any ongoing investigations or threats, law enforcement (in uniform or regular clothes) may attend the service to ensure the safety of all guests.
Viewing the body of a loved one who has died suddenly, traumatically, and/or violently can be difficult to think about, and it may seem easier to simply refuse an opportunity to view the body, especially if there has been physical trauma. Before making this decision, learn more about the Value of a Viewing. Then, have a conversation with your funeral director about the options available to you.
When a child dies, it is a unique, intensely difficult loss, and saying goodbye will likely be the most difficult thing you ever do. To learn more about navigating this particularly difficult journey, visit When A Child Dies.
While the support of family and friends following any death is important, sometimes it helps to seek assistance from someone who isn’t close to the situation. A therapist or grief counselor can provide a professional, impartial perspective on what you are experiencing on your grief journey and offer strategies for moving forward. Support groups are also an option, providing a safe space in which to share your story with others who have experienced a loss. To get started, visit Find Support.
Supporting a family member or friend whose loved one has been a victim of gun violence plays a critically important role in helping the grieving individual move forward through many complex and strong emotions. It’s important to stay connected in not only the days and weeks following the death, but in the following months and even years. It is very likely the individual who is grieving will experience a wide variety of emotions, including intense sadness, disbelief and anger. All of these emotions are normal and may not follow any specific order or pattern. It may be difficult to know what to say in these circumstances but know that your presence and willingness to listen will be appreciated. Let the individual who is grieving guide the discussion or simply be present during times of silence and contemplation if they desire.
Visit Supporting Grievers for practical advise about supporting family, friends, and even children after a loss, and visit Expressing Condolences for important guidance about empathic approaches to communicating with someone who has just experienced a loss.
It is possible the event in which your loved one died will receive media coverage at the local, national and perhaps even international levels. It is important to note that you are not obligated to speak to the media about your experience or your loss; that is a personal choice that should be respected by any media outlet. If the media coverage is intense, you may want to take a “news break” and avoid print, radio, television and online media for a while. You may also want to take a break from social media channels where posts and comments can become very polarizing instead of supportive.