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Living with Murder-Suicide

By Tawna Righter, survivor of the loss of her son in a murder-suicide and the loss of a friend in a murder-suicide. Author of Living With the Unimaginable: Life in the Aftermath of Murder-Suicide. President and co-founder of Community Awareness and Support Center, murder-suicide aftercare support, and suicide prevention advocate.

The legacy of murder-suicide is the deep sobs of a mother begging to die because she cannot comprehend or cope with the fact that her daughter killed her own beautiful child and then herself. It is the silent confusion of children who have watched their father gun down and kill their mother and then himself. It is the mass media frenzy of a spree murder-suicide. It is a legacy of great loss, solitary and traumatic grief, enormous guilt, and shame, confusion, reliving the horror, fears, silence, aloneness, lawsuits, the media, and more. It is the unthinkable, the unimaginable, and the unmentionable.

Likely, these survivors have lost two or more loved ones. The pain and guilt of such actions can be overwhelming for a survivor. They are plagued with unanswerable questions. Their grief can be traumatic and complicated. Most will likely experience some sort of post-traumatic stress type symptoms that they will have to learn strategies to overcome.

The guilt and shame associated with such acts can be lifelong. Some will become so ashamed of the act that they will completely distance themselves from it all. Others carry the guilt like a knapsack, always there, always a burden. Their plight can be so debilitating that they are unable to work, manage their finances, or engage in relationships.

Some will not fully recover from this type of loss, they may stay locked in deep sorrow, complete with physical pains and the desire to end their lives in order to end their agonizing grief. But most do manage to recover with time and effort; their lives will never be the same, but they can be renewed. They can and do find joy and happiness in their lives again, they learn to function and even excel in many ways. Many find themselves learning a whole new way of life, as who they were before the tragedy has changed so dramatically for them.

The first two to five years, seem to be the most difficult to manage. Good support from your friends and family also seems to be the most helpful in learning to live with it. Therapy with a counselor that has experience in trauma, suicide and perhaps incorporates Positive Psychology techniques woven into the recovery process can be very helpful as well. Talking with someone, whether it is someone close to you or a therapist/counselor is critical in recovering from the trauma associated with these types of tragedies. It is important not to expect to "get over it" any time soon, but know that it does get better and there is hope. Later, helping others get through these events seems to help one's sense of happiness and well-being, too. This may be accomplished through an online support group or participating in suicide support groups sometimes too. You may want to get involved with suicide prevention or aftercare organizations.

It never fully goes away. How can it? However, it truly can be survived and coped with in one's life to a point of fully functioning with purpose and overall sense of happiness and well-being.


01/19/2020 at 10:47 AM
I survived a murder suicide in Sept 2018. When the shock wore off the reality of what I am left with is devastating. People look and stare but don't talk to me. I am truly alone. I have nobody to talk to, no family, no friends. I don't know how to move on. I am so broken, my mind is mush, I can barely function. The emotional pain is beyond words. I live in despair with noone to talk to and not much in the way of support. I have a counselor but she is unreliable. She cancels out and took 6 weeks off during Christmas leaving me to deal with so much on my own. The appointments are made to suit her only which usually ends being every two weeks. In my country I am only entitled to 10 sessions of counselling which only scratches the surface. It is so shameful that a family member would do such a thing and in my country there is much ignorance. It is unthinkable, I just can't comprehend it all.
12/20/2019 at 2:07 AM
Alex Pierce
I have a very good friend I've known for over twenty years, and a few years ago, when she and my younger brother got married, I was lucky enough to get to call her my sister, too. A couple of weeks ago on Thanksgiving, she, my brother and their toddler daughter were getting ready to go to her parents' house for the big dinner, as they have every year for a while now. About an hour before they were to leave, police notified her that her father had just shot her mother, dialed 911, and then shot himself. No one saw this coming at all. Her parents were in their 80's, comfortably retired, no history of domestic violence, substance abuse, etc. Her mother was cheerful, always active in church and community events. Her father had always kept mostly to himself, but not enough to cause concern. There was no note, no statement about why he did it when he called 911, no nothing. Just out of nowhere. What's more, she was their only child, so she lost her entire family that day. People here understand how much despair she's in. I want so much to help her, but don't even know where to begin. Mostly I'm afraid of inadvertently saying or doing something that might make her grief even worse. I was hoping people here might be able to give me a little advice. What can I do that might actually be helpful (we live about 5 hours away from each other, fyi)? What should I avoid doing?
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