Handbook for Mortals : Dying suddenly : Violence

When a loved one dies as the result of a violent act, survivors commonly experience a nearly overwhelming mix of shock, grief, fear, rage, frustration, and helplessness. Not only have you lost the person you love, but you have also lost some of your sense that the world can be safe. You may be fearful that the same thing could happen to you, or to loved ones. You may feel vulnerable and violated. You may experience frustrated rage at the person who did such a terrible thing, or against God, for allowing such persons to exist. You may be angry at the authorities for having so little control. You may take on some of the guilt yourself, thinking that if you had only been there, come sooner, said something differently, this terrible death would not have happened.

Often the survivors of a person who died violently will have to deal with investigators and the press. This can sometimes add an invasion of privacy to your other burdens, but sometimes talking with the press and investigators actually feels helpful - telling your story can be therapeutic.

In criminal cases, you hope that an arrest will be made, and that justice will be served. But the frustration can be great if the person responsible is unknown or not caught. It may take years to bring a person to trial, and there is no guarantee of conviction.

People often have savage, vengeful fantasies about the person who murdered or otherwise caused the death of a loved one. This is an understandable part of the grieving process, but the affected person really must reach out to others to avoid acting on this impulse, or acting on an impulse to "take it out on yourself."

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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