NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The homicide rate in Nashville has been ticking up, with more 100 people who have been killed so far this year.
It’s a statistic that carries a lot of grief for families who have lost a loved one, whether it’s been months or decades. As the holidays roll around each year, Valerie Craig, Co-Founder of Tennessee Voices for Victims, said that grief often becomes more intense.
“Grief is a really complex emotion to begin with,” Craig said. “All of that gets compounded during the holiday season because everything shifts to this idea of joy and happiness and you’re surrounded by beautiful things, but you know the ugliness of the world.”
Tennessee Voices for Victims works on behalf of victims of crime across the state and helps connect victims with resources to assist them on their journey toward healing. But despite the over 100 homicides this year, most people don’t reach out for help dealing with grief immediately.
“Usually what happens is people don’t always reach out right away because they think ‘I can handle this, I’ve had bad things that have happened before,'” Craig said.
However, Craig said it’s important for people to learn ways to manage the grief they feel, especially from a violent crime like homicide.
While everyone responds to loss in different ways, Craig said a homicide can be “really hard for victims to wrap their heads around.” In addition to grief typically associated with loss of life, there are added emotions brought on by the suddenness and violence of the crime.
“Homicide, it’s a horrible crime,” Craig said. “You didn’t get a chance to prepare for that person being away from you, and then just the violence that happens to this person you see as precious and beloved, and recognizing that another human being chose to do that. It’s a lot.”
Some of the common ways Craig said grief will manifest among victims is with anxiety, depression and sometimes nightmares, difficultly eating or a lack of interest in things they would normally enjoy.
“There are similarities, of course, and then there are things that are going to be unique to every individual, kind of depending on our own individual makeup,” she said. “It’s anything that shifts the behavior that we’ve always had is what we’re going to begin to see.”
It’s not uncommon for victims to expect the first year without their loved one to be hard, but when the second year passes and it’s still very difficult, Craig said it can be disconcerting. Each year, the holiday season is “a glaring light that this person is no longer in your life,” she said.
Some people who have lost a family member to homicide will still get teary eyed after 30 years. Craig said grief “ebbs and flows,” but it’s the person’s ability to anticipate their grief and develop coping skills that shifts.
For some people, that means coming up with rituals like creating a scrapbook with their family or setting aside some time to talk about and remember the person who has passed away. Some people will also set a place at the table for their loved one or light a candle in their place.
“It’s engaging in the conversations that allow you to remember and practicing being OK with telling stories that make you laugh and telling stories that remind you of the positive things,” Craig said. “It’s also giving yourself grace to recognize that when the grief comes up, to allow yourself space to respond to that.”
Many people who have lost someone to homicide also find it helpful to connect with people who understand and share their experience, Craig said. While some may find it difficult to pinpoint other people walking the same path, there are resources available.
Davidson and Shelby counties both offer free support groups for people who have been effected by homicide, and Tennessee Voices for Victims is working on expanding those services by establishing homicide support groups in every judicial district across the state.
“Processing with people really is one of the most effective ways to do that because you begin to hear how are other people doing this,” Craig said. “What are their tricks, what are the things they have learned along the way.”
The groups also give people the opportunity to speak with a licensed therapist. Craig said reaching out for help is important because when people try to handle grief on their own it can sometimes manifest into unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol or drug use.
“It’s also things like eating and sleeping too much. It’s exercising too much. We can turn anything into a crutch,” she said. “So, it’s just being aware of that and recognizing that’s a sign that maybe it’s time to think through other ways of coping with our grief.”
To sign up for or find about more information about homicide support groups, click here. Other resources can also be found on Tennessee Voices for Victims’ website at this link.
“Just know that at any point that you’re ready, whether that is the next day, or three months later, or three years later, that these groups are there and they’re ready to help you,” Craig said. “Those resources are there whenever you’re ready to reach out for them.”