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Coping with the shock of a violent death


Grief and bereavement support

We offer advice on some of the emotions people feel when someone close has died a violent death, and the situations you will have to deal with.

Your feelings

The violent death of someone you love is a terrible, shattering experience. It is difficult to accept what has happened and you may feel numb, or talk and act in a different way. People think you are “being very brave” but your body is protecting you from the terrible pain of the truth, and gradually you come to accept the facts.

Anger is one of the first reactions of anyone who has lost a loved one. Your anger may be intense and directed not only to the suspect, if there is one, but also to their family, the police and anyone who you believe could have prevented the death. If you have a faith, you may feel angry with God for letting this dreadful thing happen. It is normal to want to find someone to blame. You may also feel guilty. This is also normal.

Other people taking over

All kinds of people will become involved following a violent death and you may feel like your loved one is taken away from you. The police talk about “their case.” Forensic scientists may want samples of clothing. The courts will set hearing dates. You may be asked endless questions. You may feel overwhelmed by the need to make sure that the investigation goes correctly and you may worry that you have forgotten something important.

Asking questions

You may want to know as much as possible about the events surrounding the death. What you don’t know, your mind may invent, which may be more distressing than the truth.

Coping with the media

You may be confronted by reporters asking for background information and photographs. You don’t have to talk to them. Refer them to your solicitor, who can issue a short statement on your behalf. Or, you may find it helpful to talk to the press to make sure your side of the story is told. If you give them a photograph, make sure it’s one you like.

The inquest

This will be the first legal procedure you have to cope with. This is not a trial but an inquiry to find out when, where and how the death happened. The coroner decides which witnesses will go to the inquest and you or your solicitor will have the chance to ask them questions. You may find the inquest helpful as it will identify some facts surrounding the death of your loved one. If someone has been charged with causing the death of your loved one, the inquest will be postponed until after the trial.

The way forward

The most important healing can come from talking. It may help to go over what happened many times with family and friends. Talking about your feelings may also help. A professional counsellor or people like the Samaritans will have the time and understanding to talk to you. You may never get over it, but in time you will come to terms with what has happened.

Try to recognise the danger signs of becoming too dependent on tranquillisers or alcohol. You may find keeping a diary or writing down your thoughts helpful, and you never need to show your writing to anyone.

Helpful organisations

Many people who experience the violent death of a loved one seek professional help and guidance.

Visit our Helpful organisations page for a list of services such as Cruse Bereavement Care that provide advice and support for people who have experienced the death of a loved one.

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Related Guides

A selection of guides on grief and bereavement after a death that you may find useful