Chapter 2: When grief and trauma come together

If the criminal justice system and/or media was involved

I've been there
Susan shares about the murder trial and the difficult emotions that surfaced for her.(3:22)Video transcript
The grief expert says
Roy speaks about the challenges posed by both the media and the justice system, and how these can interfere with grief.(3:22)Video transcript
Alex speaks about how media coverage can add a layer of complication for someone's grief. (3:22)Video transcript

The media created the worst of the trauma for us. One reporter was very aggressive, pushing to come to the funeral. I told her that our grief was not news. I also made a complaint to her newspaper, which was upheld.

Kids were posting stuff on Twitter about my son's death before I even knew it had happened. There was a picture of his face on Snapchat with skull and crossbones. People were posting on his Facebook page before I had a chance to tell our relatives that he was dead.

For parents whose child was murdered, both the media and the police become involved. I have a police detective’s number on speed dial. That's not normal.

Some deaths may involve the criminal justice system or attract the attention of media. This may include deaths resulting from assaults, accidents, public incidents involving many casualties, and others. The involvement of the justice system or media can create additional challenges and potential sources of trauma. Click on each of the boxes below to see some examples.

…you may struggle with having to share details of the person’s death in public and with strangers.

…you may find their reports to be intrusive, offensive, and distressing. Stories may appear unexpectedly and include inaccurate information. You may feel you have no control over the story or feel a trauma response brought on by painful memories or photos.  

…you may be repeatedly exposed to details that your mind is working to avoid.  

…you may be upset, shocked, or feel a trauma response.

legal, medical, or other terminology can seem cold or be difficult to understand.

…you may resent that it’s focused more on the accused than the person who died.

…you may find it healing if you feel that justice is being served, or it may become a new source of trauma if you feel a lack of justice.

Both media coverage and the involvement of the criminal justice system can cause traumatic memories, thoughts, and feelings to resurface.

What may help

  • Consider your privacy needs and how you might take steps to manage your exposure to media. You might choose to stop watching TV or buying newspapers, relying instead on web-based news services, which allow you to decide when and what to watch.
  • Remove yourself from social media that make you feel worse.
  • Similarly, you may decide to limit your involvement in ongoing investigations or a trial. You may be able to “filter” some of the details yourself, or you might ask someone else to do this for you.
  • If you find out new details about the person’s death that are upsetting, acknowledge your thoughts and feelings, and reach out for support. You may feel as though you’ve taken a step back, but remind yourself that it will take time to come to terms with what you’ve learned.
  • Ask for explanations if you’re having trouble understanding reports or documents. You might also ask a friend or professional, such as a lawyer or your family physician, for their help.
  • Recognize that your needs may not be met by the criminal justice system. Reach out to individuals or organizations that will support you emotionally and practically over what may be a long period of time. Acknowledge that you may not be able to fully attend to your grief until a later time, such as when a trial has ended.