Gun violence ends lives… and it often ends the lives of the living.
HOT TIP: The video above has my candid story and some of my healing music designed for grief and survivors of homicide loss like me. The article below is an additional resource for survivors of grief, gun violence, murder and homicide loss, and for their loved ones.
The grief of those like me, who have lost a loved one to gun violence, is indescribable and far-reaching. This kind of grief gets into your heart, your soul, your blood and your bones. This grief gets into your family, your community. This is personal for me, but gun violence and pervasive grief are having a huge global impact right now. Even if you don’t know someone personally who has been murdered, you’re likely seeing it in the news or on social media.
Gun violence is affecting us all. So is global warming. They’re kind of tied together. We are literally in one huge hot mess, and as the heat rises, so does the heat of anger and violence around the world.
You really actually can make a difference, but not just by thoughts and prayers. There are actions you can take, and if you’re a survivor of gun violence or gun violence loss, or you’re highly sensitive and it’s affecting you deeply, I’m sharing in this video many of the actions and supports that have been helping me to grieve and to live with this ongoing traumatic grief.
My son Quinn died by gun violence in 2016. 5 people were shot that night. 2 died, including my son. The reason? Some gang member thought one of my son’s friends was weird when he asked him for directions.
The problem with gun violence is, the impact reaches far more people than you know. What about the PTSD? The chronic pain? The unexpressed grief that sits in your body like a bomb waiting to go off. How about the jury members? The judges? The court reporters? The friends and loved ones who attend court with the survivors. The economy is drastically affected too. I was unable to work, went bankrupt and am still unable to work full-time. My business crashed and I’ve had to slowly rebuild it. If you’re an empath or highly sensitive person, it’s hitting you harder than most because you feel what the world is going through.
The grief from gun violence never ends. The healing has to be ongoing, or the lives of the living are stolen too.
There’s the barrage of the media, which is how I found out everything, at least until the murder pre-trial began. Then I saw and heard details that no mother should ever have to witness. But if I hadn’t gone to court, I would’ve felt just as traumatized by not knowing, and then once again hearing about it all in the media. With our missing and murdered indigenous women and 2-spirited people, sometimes there is zero closure, with murderers running free and loved ones permanently missing or turned into “cold cases.” Not that there is really ever true closure.
Well-meaning people want us to “move on with our lives”. They’re often horrified by us going to court to sit in the courtroom with the “Accused,” or they don’t get why we don’t want to. They don’t get what it’s like to have to live with this kind of pain and all the questions.
I know survivors of homicide loss and gun violence who have said if not for their grandchildren, they would commit suicide because the pain of living without their child who was murdered is that deep.
So what can we do? Thoughts and prayers are helpful – I’ve appreciated all of that – but it’s not enough. Even the services available here in Canada for us, while helpful, are not enough.
HOW TO HELP A GUN VIOLENCE SURVIVOR:
(Survivors, skip here for help for YOU).
1. Offer financial support. Murder is expensive. Buy your loved one’s products if they are business owners. Create a fundraiser or crowdfunding page for them and take care of it all. My friends, a community organization and my assistant (I’m an entrepreneur) set up fundraisers for me. People donated to my PayPal. Funerals are incredibly expensive, and taking necessary time off depletes funds quickly. Help your loved one with their business or employment situation, to get back to work if/when they’re ready.
2. Don’t be creepy. It has to be said. First off, don’t ask where or how they got shot or how many bullets. The last thing a survivor wants to do is tell you all the details, not to mention that most times we don’t even know the details until months or years down the road, if ever. Secondly, it’s a little unbelievable how many people I’ve had to block on social media. Some wanted to “help” but really they were trying to grow their business. Some pushed their “healing” on me and others tried to “make me feel better” when really it was they who wanted to feel better and not so uncomfortable with the effects on THEM from my son being murdered. Please don’t be that person. What to do instead?
3. ASK! Ask what the survivor needs. Offer suggestions or a few choices if they don’t know what they need or just can’t answer. I was numb with shock for months and during court, so I couldn’t think straight or focus most days, but when I heard suggestions for help, it was easy to say yes or no. By the way, it’s not like I’m saying no to all unsolicited support. It’s that I can FEEL the energy of the offer. When it feels aligned and genuine, I’ve taken people up on their invitations. When it feels creepy, well, bye bye.
4. Things you can offer to do: Take care of the kids or grandkids, housecleaning, pick up groceries, cook a meal, offer to come be with them or take them out if they’re ready for that. If you have other ideas, just ask (and feel free to write them in the comments to help whoever reads this). Make funeral arrangements. Call debtors. Arrange to have the taxes done of the loved one who was taken. Give your friend a ride to appointments.
5. Check in with them, ESPECIALLY after all the first-responders have gone back to their regular lives. That’s when loneliness, isolation and depression can sink in. My friends set up a schedule for texting and calling me, so that I would never feel unsupported and if I was in a dark place and unable to reach out, I wouldn’t go long without having someone reach out to me.
6. Understand that your loved one is going to be triggered suddenly by the strangest things, even years down the road. Be okay with that and offer support. Also know that you might not know sometimes what they are going through. We become masters at hiding what’s really going on and how we’re really feeling. Watch for the signs of someone being triggered, like a blank stare, sudden tears, no response or an outburst. Check in with them gently and quietly, which will also help them come back to their body.
7. If your loved one seems to be on an emotional roller coaster, guess what… that is completely normal for a gun violence survivor. It’s also normal for them to seem to have no emotion at all. Just watch for signs of trouble, like dark thoughts, suicidal thoughts or behaviour, extreme isolation or them just going back to life immediately as if nothing happened. Encourage them to get support, and help them to get it if they’re open to it. It’s bizarre how one can feel and the kinds of things we can do as coping strategies. I started watching extra violent movies. I’ve also gone through phases of wanting nothing but positivity. It’s all just been part of the journey. There have been times I’ve been afraid I was losing my mind or about to. I could not do this alone and I don’t believe anyone should. This is the worst Dark Night of the Soul I’ve ever experienced, and hey, I lost my mom to suicide and my dad to a heart attack when I was a teenager.
8. Pay attention and use your intuition. If they’re laughing, join them in their laughter. If they’re crying, just be with them and ask if/how you can help. Don’t automatically assume they’re just sad all the time. I know you want them to feel better, but the reality is, grief is messy and traumatic grief is even messier. Those phases of grief you hear about? Sometimes they’re all happening at once and there is no order. Also, I’m not saying pay attention as in analyze their every move. I’m just saying if you see them laughing, don’t come up with a sad face and expect them to join you in your own sadness.
9. How you can help the most is by being present for whatever is coming up for them. So many times in the first few months after my son was killed, I had people coming up to me with a big sad look on their face, and half the time it was THEM that needed the hug, not me. I had to reserve most of my energy for me and my daughter.
10. PLEASE DON’T STOP THEM FROM CRYING OR MINIMIZE THEIR GRIEF!!!! Those tears need to fall. We need to fall apart before we can pick up the pieces of ourselves and our lives. Other emotions come up too – for me, there has been anger, rage, love, gratitude, jealousy, frustration, overwhelm, shock, fear, terror, all kinds of feelings that hit hard sometimes. If we hold space for those feelings, we can heal. If you hold space, rather than try to “fix” us, that’s the most powerful thing you can do.
11. YOU might need support as well. Supporting someone through this kind of a loss can be very triggering for anyone, so make sure you’re not doing this alone either.
Gun violence affects us in ways nobody can predict. Be open to what your loved ones need. Be there for them in whatever ways you can and they want. Be open to what YOU need too.
GUN VIOLENCE OR MURDER SURVIVORS & HIGHLY SENSITIVE EMPATHS: HOW TO HANDLE THE IMPACT OF TRAUMATIC LOSS AND THE GLOBAL HOT MESS WE’RE IN
1. Get support. Do NOT do this alone. I reached out immediately to my assistant to shut things down in my business, and I messed my sister and a few friends. I let them know I might isolate and asked them to check up on me often. Then I got professional support, from a therapist, and am still doing so now. Know your tendencies and be honest about it with your loved ones, so they can support you in the best ways possible.
2. Go-to Self-Care Tools: You might find yourself in waves of shock and grief. The media, court, police updates, anniversary dates and anything else to do with the death of your loved one can bring on the waves and sometimes it can feel like there’s nothing to stop them. Have some go-to self-care tools and friends you can count on to help you ride the waves. I have certain crystals that help me feel more peaceful and calm. I have a rock from back home that grounds me. I have healing music – some of it self-created and some by other artists – that I know brings me to a certain place emotionally or mentally. What works for you?
3. In moments of clarity, in between the waves, notice and write down what makes you feel better, or what helps you to bring up and cry out some emotion but not so much that it’s too intense for you. Note that it will all feel too intense, but layer by layer, we need to get those feelings to move up and out, or it will all solidify in the body and mind and turn into things like chronic pain (I now have arthritis and several other conditions).
4. Follow your heart, your intuition and your body. Nobody knows what you need more than you do. If you feel numb, BREATHE. I found myself hardly breathing and it still happens sometimes. I got pneumonia when I was practicing my song “Grieve” and I’ve had to relearn how to breathe deeply enough to sustain me. According to Louise Hay, we hold grief in our lungs – and obviously our hearts. Grief is nothing but love. Love meant for the person who can no longer receive it and give it back. Allow yourself, with so much compassion and self-care, to feel some of that love again. It will bring tears, but it will also bring healing, little by little.
5. Lean on your friends to remind you of what you used to enjoy – and be open to some or all of that changing. Write down a list of whatever makes you smile or feel a little better NOW – and keep that list where you can always see it. Over time, I have found that I returned to my major life passion, singing and channelling healing songs, and I am releasing another album, Picking Up the Pieces, dedicated to my son and to homicide loss survivors and people who are dealing with grief and loss. I also ended some things in my business that were no longer bringing me joy. Doing what I love has really helped me come home to my NEW self, because I am no longer the person I used to be, but there are many pieces of me and my life that I have picked back up along this grief journey.
6. Some of the things that have helped me: Grief counselling, Homicide Survivor Support Programs (see resources below), EMDR, doing what lights me up, holding space for ALL the emotions, singing, yelling and moving (to move the emotions up and out), seeing indigenous medicine people for help (I’m indigenous so it’s also culturally fulfilling), natural pain remedies, Rescue Remedy, working with reputable mediums to communicate with my son Quinn, talking to my son out loud, saying Quinn’s name, having his pictures all over the house, noticing the signs he leaves me, sharing fond memories of my son with others who love him, playing his music (he was a music producer), using my spiritual gifts and tools, and what I mentioned in number 2 above. I’ve also gotten help from naturopaths, my osteopath, and my massage therapist.
7. Go easy on yourself. Have self-compassion. Don’t allow other people’s or society’s expectations to make you feel like something’s wrong with you. Most people are suppressing or struggling with their own grief, and not many people understand that losing someone to gun violence is NOT the same as losing someone to illness or natural causes, and the resulting grief is much more complicated and takes a lot longer to process and begin to live with.
RESOURCES THAT HAVE HELPED ME (note that I’m Canadian and live in Ontario):
Victim Services Ontario: Toronto Victim Services can be found here. Normally the police will connect you with Victim Services, to help you pay for funeral expenses as well as some initial counselling and referrals to other programs and organizations, like Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, from which you may be able to get further funeral costs reimbursed or more therapy. Be forewarned, it’s probably best to get a Victim Services worker or a loved one to help you fill out the forms or do it for you as it can be incredibly triggering and difficult to answer the necessary questions and get through all the red tape.
Toronto Distress Centre has a FREE counselling program and group counselling program for Homicide Loss Survivors. It’s a place you can feel like people get you, and like you can talk freely about your experience of losing someone to murder. Bereavement programs just don’t have the same benefits, because nobody gets a homicide loss victim than someone who has been there themselves, and regular grief is nowhere near the same as traumatic grief. They also have a hotline: 408 HELP Line (416-408-4357) or text 45645.
Psychology Today: You can filter your search results to find a therapist that suits you and your needs and budget.
Parole Board of Canada: Victims have certain rights to information about the people who were convicted of murdering one of your loved ones. You can even have an impact on their potential release. The public also has the right to know certain information. Keep in mind that the court process is often lengthy (mine took about 3 years after the 2 “Accused” were arrested), so this may not come into play until years down the road.
DISCLAIMER: I am sharing what I have experienced personally, what’s helped me the most after losing my son to gun violence. I am not a medical doctor or mental health professional. I urge you to get whatever kinds of professional support you need. Every grief journey is different and gun violence affects us all in different ways. I make no claims of being a therapist or expert in traumatic grief. I am just sharing my experiences because I’ve seen so many people suffering from the effects of gun violence and this is one way I can make a difference – by sharing my story and my music.
Please comment below if you have tips for people to help those who have lost someone to gun violence. I’m lucky that I have the supports and the friends that I do, and that I was a healer when this grief journey began. Not everyone has resilience or support. Your ideas are valuable and helpful. This is how we heal, by sharing our ideas and support with each other.
Brenda MacIntyre, Medicine Song Woman