The murder of a child is one of the most disruptive psychological trauma parents can experience.
Loss of a child to gun violence can render parents powerless and compel them to a painful path of searching for meaning and re-establishing new assumptions about themselves and the world.
“You know some people of my family would not even call me back, to ask how I am doing because to them it’s like he did something wrong and he died.”
Mothers concluded that they were treated differently by family members and social networks because of the stigmatizing nature of gun violent deaths. The mothers internalized this treatment as abandonment and confirmation that their grief and their deceased children were unworthy of attention, as a result they modulated their expression of grief in public and retreated by cocooning or isolating themselves.
Studies have demonstrated that survivors of gun homicide grapple with debilitating bereavement-related distress including PTSD, intrusive thoughts of the deceased, insomnia, disturbing imageries, depression, and complicated grief symptoms This level of trauma is further compounded by the intersecting and interlocking of race, stigma of gun violent loss, and negative social interactions.
In addition to the stigma of gun violence, this gap might be due to a general limitation in the recognition of grief as a mental health issue, as well as the complexities of traumatic grief among survivors of gun violence.
The psychological impact of violent loss combined with pre-existing social depravities, and the stigma of gun violence can intensify survivor’s trauma experience
The most crushing trauma and re-traumatization occurs among members of the nuclear family affected by gun violence.Mothers, who are considered stabilizers in single parent families suffer profound magnitude of effects.
“I lost three or four jobs because I couldn’t muster up the energy to survive. I lost my house three years ago”.“Over the last 5 years I had many thoughts of suicide… I started to smoke and drink. My grief prolonged my children’s grief. Not only did they lose their brother they were losing me.”
Loss to gun violence further intensifies their economic situation by burdening them with legal fees and burial expenses and often resulting in multiple job losses.
In the context of many of these mothers’ elusive and enduring adjustments as immigrants in Canadian societies, dealing with social disadvantages, the sudden death of a child, and the racial stigma of gun violence can create a wave of secondary victimization that greatly hampers their ability to cope.
Given the degree to which some disadvantaged communities face ongoing gun violence, grief and trauma services are necessary in the aftermath to avert severe and harmful grief responses including self-induced images, extreme helplessness, and the desire for revenge.
Compensation and grief counselling are provided for eligible victims of crime in most Canadian provinces; except in cases where the victim is deemed responsible for his or her death. Over 90% of the participants were not eligible for compensation because their children were known to the police and more than 80% of them indicated having limited or no access to community health resources for grief.
4 themes emerged in how mothers transformed the meaninglessness of their children’s murder and built resilience (i) belief that the death had a purpose (ii) religious and spiritual belief (iii) activism to honour their children (iv) renewed purpose for their lives.
Engaging in social activism was a further manifestation of their resiliency and meaning making, this helped mothers transition from a place of vulnerability and powerlessness to one of strength.
Violence Changes Everything is compiled from the following resources courtesy of Dr. Annette Bailey, RN, PhD, Ryerson University, Assistant Professor, Daphne Cockwell School of Nursing Toronto ON:
Social support and Black mothers’ bereavement experience of losing a child to gun homicide
A COMMUNITY-BASED MODEL OF GUN-VIOLENT TRAUMATIC GRIEF SUPPORT, Black Mothers’ Cognitive Process of Finding Meaning and Building Resilience after Loss of a Child to Gun Violence. The Mediating Role of Social Support, Cognitive Appraisal, and Quality Health Care in Black Mothers’ Stress-Resilience Process Following Loss to Gun Violence
Race-Based Stigma as a Determinant of Access and Support in Black Mothers’ Experience f Loss to Gun Violence