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MODULE 4

Supporting Families
of the Murdered

This module will focus on supporting families of the murdered. When the missing loved one is found murdered, the family must undergo an almost impossible emotional shift and has a bearing on the family’s ability to change from a dual sense of future to a future in which the individual will never be physically present. Several factors about how the death impacts the grief reaction of the family will be discussed in addition to key terms and concepts. 

Learning Objectives

 When you have finished Module 4, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Identify the several factors about how the death itself impact the grief reaction of the family. 

  2. Describe grief in the context of a murdered loved one.

  3. Recognize the physiological and behavioural characteristics of a traumatic response and how to support an individual experiencing and dealing with a traumatic response 

  4. Recognize where peoples’ grief will focus on depending on the age of the deceased (ex. Older the deceased, the more the grieving will focus on memories. The younger the deceased. the more the grieving will focus on their future).

  5. Define re-grief and describe how to support a person experiencing re-grief periods. 

  6. Know what it means to establish a permanent relationship with the deceased loved one.

  7. Know that traditional rituals and ceremonies can provide good support to families who are going through this grief period.

Module Instructions

  1. Read Supporting Families of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls & Other Missing Persons Manual (pages 44-62)

  2. Watch the videos and read the article in the Learning Materials section

Required Readings

  1. Supporting Families of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls & Other Missing Persons Manual (pages 44-62)

  2. Video: Trauma Informed Care Webinar
     

   3. Video: Ambiguous Loss Webinar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

   4. Video: Words from Elder Lorna

   5. Video: 5 Things About Grief No One Really Tells You

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  6. Reading: What Does Healing Look Like for the Families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women?

  7. Video: Why are Indigenous Women Missing in Canada?

Key Terms & Concepts

  • Grief: The process of adjusting to a loss. This process can include every possible feeling.
     

  • Traumatic Loss: Any loss characterized by the survivor who experiences a traumatic response based on the meaning and value that person gives to the event.
     

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): May occur in people who have experienced, witnessed, or being repeatedly exposed to the aversive details of the traumatic event.
     

  • Memorial Moments: Times in which the family plans in advance to remember and to honour the deceased loved one. Most often these moments correspond with birthdays, holidays, family events and the anniversary dates of when the murdered individual went missing, his/her death (if known), and/or when their body was found.
     

  • Re-grief: The process of adjusting to a loss from a new perspective, or a new developmental level. This grief process continues to some degree throughout the family members’ lives. This period of grief usually does not last as long as the original grieving and is not as intense. 
     

  • Coping: Is what one must do when they cannot change a situation but must learn to live with it and incorporate it into their lives. Note: The concept of acceptance does not mean you liked what happened 
     

  • Traditional Activities: Traditional Activities can be a good line of coping mechanisms for families that want to utilize traditional practices. Returning to and reconnection with nature to feel grounded, establishing a supportive relationship with an elder or shaman/healer for guidance, doings sweats and sweat lodges to purify, and using traditional prayer to help foster hope and reduce fear and anger are some examples. 
     

  • Stress Management: These techniques help to release endorphins and reduce cortisol levels.
     

  • Resilience: Living a lifestyle that keeps stress from developing. The foundation of a resilient lifestyle is self-knowledge and insight. 
     

  • Family Resilience: A resilient family is one in which every member is committed to the family and will put the family first in times of difficulty and challenges.

LEARNING MATERIAL

Overall, this module will explain concepts such as trauma, grief, physical and emotional structure, and resilience in the context of when a missing person is found murdered. Traditional Indigenous healing methods will be discussed as well as stories and perspectives from families of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls. 

READING

Supporting Families of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls & Other Missing Persons Manual (pages 44-62)

When the Missing Loved One is Found Murdered (Intro)

Image by Caroline Attwood

In our manual reading, we can see that several factors about the death itself, such as whether the body is found and the amount of physical evidence present, impact the grief reaction of the family. For instance, families change from a dual sense of future to a future in which the individual will never be physically present. Furthermore, evidence from the murder can impact the family’s emotions towards the death of a loved one such as processing and moving through traumatic emotions and fear of the loved one’s murder into grief. We also know that the status of a perpetrator also impacts the family’s ability to begin to grieve the death of the loved one and supporting the family’s feelings of safety is key. Supporting a family if/when the perpetrator is in custody can be facilitated by assisting the family in getting through court hearings and discussing all possible outcomes of the capture and prosecution of the perpetrator in advance. It is important to note that families/family members who solely focus on court proceedings and do not balance family time/healing miss the opportunity to grow and heal with the family. 

Grief

Image by Ben White

In this section of the module, we can define grief as ‘the process of adjusting to a loss.’ Attachment theory, developed by John Burrows, theorizes that all mammals have some type of reaction, such as numbness, disbelief, and searching and pining for the individual when separated from something that they are attached to. Lastly, we can recognize the tasks of mourning such as accepting the reality of the loss, experiencing the pain of grief, adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing, and emotionally relocating the deceased and moving on with life. 

Video: 5 Things About Grief No One Really Tells You

This video discusses 5 brief points about grief that can be used to better understand grief and how to support someone experiencing grief. Although the video does a great job of breaking down and explaining important information about grief, there are some contradictions between the video and our manual. For instance, the manual states that the idea of the ‘stages of grief’ are misleading because grief does not follow set stages, nor does everyone experience every single ‘stage’ of grief the same way or at the same time. 

Consider the discussion question:
Regarding the Grief Video, are there any aspects of the video that you agree with or do not agree with? Any aspects of the video that resonate with you? How can the 5 points in the video be used to support someone who is dealing with grief? 

Traumatic Loss

Image by Ethan Sykes

In this section of module, we can define trauma as any loss characterized by the survivor experiencing a traumatic response (see below) based on the meaning and value that person gives to the event. We can recognize the physiological and behavioural characteristics of a traumatic response and how to support an individual experiencing and dealing with a traumatic response. For instance, the physiological response to trauma involves the hypothalamus releasing a hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland, releasing a hormone into the bloodstream to stimulate the adrenal glands, which release adrenaline and cortisol. Behavioural characteristics of a traumatic response include difficulty concentrating, reduced ability of short-term memory, difficulty learning new material, increased negative world view, and the inability to sleep. Lastly, identifying where assistance is needed when dealing with the various systems (ex. law enforcement, courts, funeral industry) and how to reach out to helpful community resources to assist in helping the family cope and heal can be necessary. 

Video: Trauma Informed Care Webinar (44:05-56:50) 

In this portion of the webinar, Duane goes into more detail about the physiological response to trauma such as needing to deal with trauma before someone can deal with grief and what constitutes a trauma response (concentration, memory, learning, repetitive thinking, anger, negativity). Duane also explains the process in the release of cortisol in the brain and what happens when cortisol floods our system. To aid in this, Duane shows a diagram of the different parts of the brain and what happens when cortisol floods certain parts of the brain, creating a physical traumatic response. Lastly, Duane discusses some easy ways to reduce cortisol and ease a physical traumatic response.

Consider the discussion question:

Why is it important as a support person to know the physiological and behavioural characteristics of a trauma response? 

Re-establishing Physical and Emotional Structure

Image by National Cancer Institute

In this section of the module, we can see that roles and relationships can now be referred to in more permanent terms and refined to exclude the physical presence of the deceased person. We recognize the difference between ‘helpful’ and comforting statements as opposed to hurtful statements when interacting with the family. We discuss how support includes helping the family adjust from the emotional structures of ‘missing’(temporary) to ‘murdered’ (permanent) and resolving the trauma of the murder. We learned how to support a family during the change in structure from the emotions of ‘missing’ to the emotions of ‘dead’ through the creation of memorial moments. Lastly, we examine the complicated emotions that result from establishing a date of death of a missing and then murdered family member 

Replace the Pain of the Absence, Uncertainty and Fear with Grief

Image by Külli Kittus

In this section of the module, we learn that when a loved one is found murdered the pain of absence becomes permanent. We describe the role and importance of Elders, traditional healers, and ceremony. We recognize and support family members’ feelings of guilt and help them to separate out that for which they are responsible from all the rest. We discuss how the concept of forgiveness can realistically be achieved and differentiate between forgiveness and acceptance. Lastly, we know the questions and discussion that help the family to forgive the murdered loved one whose lifestyle may have led to their own murder. 

 

Consider the discussion question:

Why is the appropriate/sensitive use of words/language important when supporting families of the murdered?

Acknowledge the Picture of the 'Lost' Time While the Loved One was Missing

Image by Ben White

In this section of the module, we learn that gathering as much information as possible about the murder can become a means of control over the situation, but it is a healthy indication that the family is working to accept the death. We recognize that family members who actively avoid information and the ‘missing time’ of their loved one are probably in denial of the death. We discussed the creation of traumatic scenarios by family members, how to support family members during this stage, and what questions are appropriate and helpful to ask. Lastly, we describe how storylines are created by family members to fill in the gaps of missing information about the murdered loved one. 

Resolve the Loved One that Is/Would Have Been Contradiction

Image by sarandy westfall

In this section of the module, we recognize where peoples’ grief will focus on depending on the age of the deceased (ex. Older the deceased, the more the grieving will focus on memories. The younger the deceased. the more the grieving will focus on their future). We Identified when memories of the past are best processed and know that family is best supported by being reassured that their grief is necessary and important and does not follow the timetable or expectations of others. We discuss how to support family members in acknowledging developmental expectations of the deceased loved one. Lastly, we re-grief is a process of adjusting to a loss from a new perspective, or a new developmental level and a person should continue to be supported during re-grief periods. 

Establish a Permanent Relationship with the Deceased Loved One

Image by DDDanny D

In this section of the module, we recognize where peoples’ grief will focus on depending on the age of the deceased (ex. Older the deceased, the more the grieving will focus on memories. The younger the deceased. the more the grieving will focus on their future). We Identified when memories of the past are best processed and know that family is best supported by being reassured that their grief is necessary and important and does not follow the timetable or expectations of others. We discuss how to support family members in acknowledging developmental expectations of the deceased loved one. Lastly, we re-grief is a process of adjusting to a loss from a new perspective, or a new developmental level and a person should continue to be supported during re-grief periods. 

Article: What Does Healing Look Like for the Families of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women?

This article examines different Indigenous family members’ stories and their journey through traditional healing methods during ambiguous loss. The article emphasized the ongoing issue of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) in Canada and how families of MMIWG are impacted. The article provides further context to the information in the manual regarding traditional Indigenous forms of healing such as smudging, prayer, and the support of community. 

Effective Support for Trauma

Image by taylor hernandez

In this section of the module, we define coping as what one must do when they cannot change a situation but must learned to live with it and incorporate it into their life in a healthy way. We can differentiate between healthy coping mechanisms and unhealthy coping mechanisms. We can define stress management as techniques that help to release endorphins and reduce cortisol levels. Lastly, resilience is living a lifestyle that keeps stress from developing and is built using both the traditional and stress management skills on an on-going basis before stress occurs. 

Video: Ambiguous Loss Webinar (1:07:40-1:12:25)

This portion of the webinar discusses 20 ways to de-stress. These 20 ways to de-stress connect well to the manual reading when discussing stress-management and resilience and provide helpful examples when having a physical reaction to trauma and stress. 

Video: Why are Indigenous Women Missing in Canada?

The following portion of the video follows the story of the Catcheaway family who continue to search for their missing daughter. This video ties in well with the module reading, as you partly get to see the unfortunate reality of what the Catcheaway family goes through when dealing with the trauma of ambiguous loss and hear their story. 

Conclusion: If you have any questions or information/ideas you would like to discuss, please bring those up during the zoom training session.