Navigating the Aftermath of a Tragic Death

If someone is killed in a mass shooting, a severe accident, or another tragic event, there are some specific things you can do to support their loved ones and to process your own grief

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Angela Serratore

In an ideal world, when a beloved friend or family member dies, it is peacefully—they’re surrounded by friends and other loved ones, in little pain, and at the end of a long, happy, and fulfilled life. 

Unfortunately, that’s not always the reality. Tragedies happen, and people lose their lives. For the ones left behind, the loss of their friend or relative can be compounded by the difficulty of navigating such an unfamiliar experience, particularly if it’s an event that has made local or national news. 

While many of the tips and action items we’ve shared, like how to support grieving friends and how to mourn when you can’t travel to the funeral or memorial service, are applicable to all kinds of loss, tragic loss is one you’ll want to be especially sensitive around.

Don’t pry: When someone is killed in a mass shooting, in a car crash, or a violent crime, friends and family might have to spend hours—or even days—talking to police, lawyers, and even the press. While offering yourself as a sounding board can be generous, it’s important to let people talk about what happened at their own pace. Many loved ones of murder victims report being asked for graphic details by friends and acquaintances—in addition to being impolite, it can also cause a significant amount of stress and anxiety for the survivors. 

Take the ‘phone tree’ approach to the next level: In a high profile death or incident, friends and family are almost certain to be bombarded with requests from media outlets. Consider offering to help navigate the requests, or even act as a family spokesperson if you feel able. 

Consolidate offers of help: When something tragic happens, people far and wide want to help—it’s common, in the aftermath of mass shootings, to see crowdfund campaigns meant to support the victim’s family. If you’re especially close to the deceased’s family, offer to help manage these efforts and make sure the support and resources get where they need to go. 

Prioritize mental health: Mass shootings, large-scale accidents, and terrorist events can be incredibly anxiety-provoking even for those lucky enough to not have a direct connection to the incident. The American Psychological Association has a great guide to dealing with stress and anxiety in the aftermath of a mass shooting, and they emphasize the importance of things like eating and sleeping on a regular schedule, allowing yourself to turn off the news when it becomes too overwhelming, and seeking counseling for things like ‘survivor’s guilt,’ which can appear at any point during the grieving process. 

Get involved: Whether or not to speak publicly about the loss of a loved one in a mass shooting or other tragic event is a personal choice—not everyone feels comfortable speaking or giving statements in public, and many people don’t feel, in the days after a loss, ready to do things like contact local Congresspeople or advocacy groups. If this does feel like something you want to do, though, tap into the network of groups working to both change laws and support victims and their families—Everytown for Gun SafetyThe Brady Campaign, and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence all engage in both campaigns for changes to federal and state laws and support of survivors at the local level. 

If you're in crisis, you can get 24/7, free, mental health support from Crisis Text Line. Just send a text message to 741741. 

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Categories: Grief, Managing a Death

Lantern provides guidance and support for navigating life before and after a death.

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