Information for Crime Victims

Suggestions for Survivors of Loved Ones or Whose Loved Ones are Missing

"Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time, it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; He does not fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain."
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

  1. General decisions — for most, it is wise to put off important decisions. This is not a time to decide to sell a home, get married, or seek a divorce.
  2. Prepare for the "firsts" — everything that is done after someone dies becomes new. There will be the first time a survivor has dinner after their loved one died. There will be the first time that a holiday occurs without the loved one there. There will be the first birthday and so forth. Each first marks a time of "going on" and, for many, a time for grief.
  3. Prepare for the roller-coaster of grieving – many survivors resent the term "healing" because sorrow afflicts survivors for a lifetime. The process of building a new life in the wake of disaster has a similarity to the physical healing of the body after a deep wound. It does not happen in a linear way. People have good days and bad days after tragedy.
  4. Don't set unrealistic expectations for yourself or others. It takes a long time to adjust to the loss of a loved one. Try to take life slowly. Don't worry about the small stuff.
  5. It's okay to be scared. You are starting on a new journey into uncharted territory. No one has been where you are today and where you will go. People will give you comfort and support, but grief is a personal journey.
  6. Don't be afraid to be angry. Someone you love is gone. It is unfair and unjust. It was caused by an evil act. You have a right to rage – but don't harm others or yourself.
  7. Avoid dwelling on personal guilt. It's hard not to think of the possible ways that you might have helped your loved one avoid the tragedy. You may think that you could have suggested they stay home from work. Perhaps you wanted them to pursue another job and could have pushed that idea more. Maybe you encouraged them to take a certain flight to either stay home with you a few more hours or to get home to you quicker. There is little use in dwelling on what might have been. It is not your fault or their fault that you were victims of this horrendous event.
  8. Stay in touch with your doctor to monitor your physical responses. It is not unusual for a person who is grieving to be vulnerable to illness and unhealthy behaviors.
  9. Educate yourself on trauma reactions, traumatic death, mourning, and bereavement. Reading about grief is a way of validating your own experiences and learning more about your options.
  10. Maintain or develop routines.
  11. Stay in touch with the living: pets, plants, children, and friends. Children are often a lifeline to going on. They need your love and support. Their impressions and reactions will be varied. Most of us want our children to grow up to be healthy and vital adults. They need our help to get through this not only now but for years into the future. Many times the need to care for a pet or for plants is another motivation for living.
  12. Communicate with your loved ones who have died — write to them, talk to them.
  13. Take time for yourself. Take time to be alone, if that is what you need. Find ways to express your feelings. Some people find music a way of expressing deep emotions. Others may find physical activity a relief from intense stress. Some people find support from others who have suffered in the same way after the attacks to be useful. Becoming involved in activities that relate to helping others or advocating for others after the attack may help. Many people find art, dance, carpentry, crafts and so forth to be useful ways to express reactions. The important thing is to find time to concentrate on yourself, at least for a while, each day.
  14. Talk to your clergy member or spiritual leader. Ask questions about what this means and how it could happen. Search for your own explanations from God or your spiritual beliefs. If your faith is a sustaining force in your life, find comfort from your beliefs.
  15. Seek meaning in what you do and how you are living.
"To be sure, man's search for meaning may arouse inner tension rather than inner equilibrium. However, precisely such tension is an indispensable prerequisite of mental health. There is nothing in the world, I venture to say, that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst of conditions as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one's life. There is much wisdom in the words of Nietzsche: 'He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.'"
--Frankl, V., Man's Search for Meaning, New York, NY:Washington Square Press, 1959.

Copyright 2001, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR VICTIM ASSISTANCE©, Washington, DC.