Being there for someone who is grieving and recovering from the trauma of what happened can make a huge difference. Theirs is a long and complicated journey.
A homicide death ranks among the most all-consuming of tragedies. The devastating impact it has on the bereaved is long-lasting. The public nature of the death, with media attention, can increase stress levels, along with the long investigation, coronial process, court case, and parole processes. If the perpetrator is not apprehended or is caught but the outcome isn’t what is wanted, the distress increases.
You might feel you don’t know what to say or do, but offering ongoing care and compassion, and being prepared to listen if they want to talk, can help a lot. It won’t take their pain away, but it can make the road ahead a little less traumatic.
Acknowledge what’s happened
Let them know you’ve heard the news. Use the name of the person who has died and speak respectfully of them.
Express your care and concern
Tell them that you’re there for them and want to support them, now and in the days to come. Respect any cultural differences.
Listen to them
Don’t push them to talk or to tell you more than they want to. Their emotions may be very strong, even extreme, but let them get out what’s inside. They might repeat themselves so be patient. Repeating is a way of processing what’s happened. Don’t jump in with advice. Understand if they’d rather talk with someone else. You can show your support and care in other ways.
Let the person grieve
It’s painful but grief is normal. Don’t minimise their loss or criticise how they’re dealing with it. Let them grieve in their own way, at their own pace. Bereaved parents can have an especially difficult grief journey and can need a lot of caring understanding and support.
Silence might be what they need
Don’t always fill silence with words. You can also show support through eye contact, a squeeze of the hand, or a reassuring hug.
It’s okay to feel emotion yourself
Just make sure your focus is on the person. If you get overwhelmed, take a break to catch your breath. You don’t want the person to feel they’re responsible to support you.
Ask how you can help or make specific offers
Don’t force help on them. Offer to do things like take them to an appointment, have a coffee, or drop off a meal. It’s okay if they say no. Offer again another time.
Avoid giving opinions and strong advice not asked for
You don’t need to know the answers to all their questions. If you do have some suggestions, start by saying… "Have you thought about..." or "You might like to...", so the choice stays with them.
Check in regularly
Don't assume how they are. Ask them. The grieving process can be long and complex, so continue to support them. Remember key dates such as anniversaries and birthdays. When the moment seems right, share positive memories.
Find out about grief and trauma
Our information sheets below may help you to better understand what the person you're supporting may be going through.
Watch for signs that they might need some extra help
If any of their reactions concern you, or you are worried about their safety, talk about it with them first and encourage them to seek help, eg. “I’m very concerned about you right now. I think you need to talk with someone about how bad you’re feeling and get some good help. How can I support you to find that help."
Take good care of yourself
Supporting someone bereaved by homicide can be challenging, especially if you’re grieving the loss too. Your own well-being matters as well.
Supporting grieving children and young people
Bereaved children and young people will need ongoing attention, care, reassurance, and loving support from those around them. It is not unusual for trauma or grief reactions to resurface later. As children and young people grow and develop, they will respond to their loss in news ways. They may ask new questions sometimes, even years after the death.
Our useful information sheet, After a homicide: Supporting grieving children and young people offers helpful suggestions about having important conversations and supporting them through this tragic time.
Victim Support are here for you
You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker, or for information about options for local child and youth support.
Reassure children and young people that it’s normal to have strong thoughts and feelings after someone dies. Talk about some helpful ways to manage them, such as taking some slow, deep breaths if they’re getting anxious, crying if they want to, or talking to someone they trust when they’re feeling really sad.
Skylight provide specialist support and resources for grieving children. You can contact Skylight on 0800 299 100 for available children’s books after a traumatic event or homicide death or ask for these at your local library. Some useful resources include:
- A Terrible Thing Happened (by Margaret Holmes)
- After a Murder: A Workbook for Grieving Kids (by The Dougy Centre)
- Something Has Happened (by Skylight)
- When Tough Stuff Happens (by Skylight)
Other useful information and websites
The general information below from Kids Health NZ may also be helpful.
Supporting grieving children and young and ways to help
Helping a child cope with the death of a parent
Helping your child after their sister, brother or cousin has died
Wilding Books offers some free, downloadable resources that focus on emotional, anxiety and wellbeing support for children.
Victim Support has developed a helpful information handbook for those affected by homicide, in partnership with Skylight. You can see a PDF version of it here or ask your Support Worker for a printed copy.