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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.


01/13/2019 at 10:33 PM
My mother shot my nephew twice, while he slept, then say in her rocking chair,said a prayer, then shot herself. It has devastated our family. So much blame. So much hatred. We've mostly moved forward but the pain is intense and overwhelming at times. It has been six and a half years and feels like yesterday. We don't understand why. That's the biggest hurdle. Mom was at the end of her rope wroth my nephew. She had bailed him out of numerous financial troubles, homeless situations, debt, jail, etc. I think she was so mentally exhausted she couldn't continue. One day I hope to find out why. It will haunt me forever.
07/01/2018 at 10:52 AM
My sister, whom my daughter and I lived with, killed herself and her daughter, my niece. I suffered severe grief,anxiety, and panic for years. I was lucky enough to have a great therapist and a grieving community to help me. I really feel like it took me ten years to learn to live a full, happy life with my sadness. Your life is never the same and the level of grief you feel does set you apart from others. You are not alone but it is very tough. Just be as patient and don’t let anyone give you time line to feel better. It is a long journey but it is a journey. Things do change.
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