Memorializing A Crime Victim
How to deal with Crime Victims at the Funeral and Memorial
Every year, in even the smallest cities in the United States, murders are an all too common occurrence. And, in nearly every case, the funerals of those whose lives have been cruelly cut short by a criminal are about as sad and as unfortunate a scenario as can be experienced by a community – and particularly by a family who has suffered a very unexpected, sudden loss. Memorializing a crime victim can, therefore, take an extraordinarily emotional toll on those involved with the life of the deceased. Not only are they in a position of grieving a loss of a great friend or family, but they must also navigate a great deal of other distractions – media inquiries, police investigations, and even rumors on social media – that come about very suddenly and from many different directions. It is a tough time, indeed, and many people will be inclined to help as much as possible with the memorializing needs. In this article we offer some ideas for how family and friends can memorialize their deceased loved one in a beautiful and helpful way despite the chaos surrounding the crime that has been perpetrated upon them.
Minimize the Role of the Criminal
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about memorializing a crime victim is to simply minimize the role of the criminal. Experts in a wide variety of fields – from psychology to religion to public relations – all advise that a memorial ceremony for a crime victim who has been murdered should focus on the deceased's life solely. Minimal mention of the crime should be made at a funeral and burial ceremony, they say, and certainly, the criminal is deserving of no special attention (negative or otherwise). Though tempting, it is not helpful from a variety of perspectives – spiritual, legal, and even emotional – to use a memorial ceremony as an outlet for exercising rage or vengeance against a murderer, no matter how justified such words may seem to everyone who may be in attendance. Outbursts of anger toward someone who has murdered a friend or loved one are best left for the court room (upon advice of an attorney, of course). It is often the case that such legal strategies, when carried out in front of a judge or jury, can have an effect on the punishment phase of a trial, but, in general, they offer little that is useful from an emotional perspective during a funeral or memorial service.
Learn about the Blessings the Victim Provided
The next thing to think about when memorializing a crime victim is taking time to learn about the ways the victim was a blessing in the life of others. More than one teacher, for example, has shared stories on blogs and elsewhere of their experience teaching students to do research on the very victims of major crime events that make the news. (Such as the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 or the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013.) Rather than doing class reports and papers on the tragic event itself, the students focus on the lives of the victims in their projects, and the result is a great memorial exercise. Often these reports can even be shared directly with families of the victims themselves – even years after the fact – and that sort of memorial tribute can be outstandingly helpful for the loved ones (who often find themselves still in a state of shock and grieve even a decade or more after a crime takes their loved one).
But this idea does not have to be limited to long term memorials that happen long after a death or burial. It can be a part of the immediate memorial service itself. A good eulogy written for a crime victim will include, for example, many examples and stories of the situations in which the deceased proved to be a great inspiration or even just a blessing to others. This practice will often require digging into the life the deceased in much the same way that, say, a newspaper feature writer will investigate an article. Conversations with the deceased's family and friends will often be necessary and, while that can seem like an uncomfortable prospect for many, such conversations can be an important part of the grieving process for friends and loved ones of the deceased and, therefore, this approach to memorializing a crime victim will almost always be greatly appreciated.
Contribute to Causes the Victim Championed
Another great way to memorialize a crime victim is to contribute to causes the victim championed. As in our section just above, this may require some digging to find out what types of groups or causes the victim supported. Where as some people where their support of non-profit agencies (or even school or sports teams) on their proverbial sleeve, others are not quite so open about it. To discover what causes to support in memory of the deceased may take time and effort. A recent case in point: a young man who died in Ohio as the result of a drunk driver's poor decision to get behind the wheel of a pick-up truck one fateful night after a party was tormented for all of his life with a condition known as Aspberger's syndrome. Aspberger's is a somewhat mild form of Autism that effects a person's ability to interact well with others in social situations. It can be debilitating, leading those who suffer from it to live a frustrating life of being unable to stay with relationships, jobs, and other institutions that are often very much a part of our modern world. And, because of the potential social stigma associated with Aspberger's syndrome, it can sometimes be the case that people and their families decide to keep the condition a secret. Well, in this case, that's exactly what happened. So, when the man died unexpectedly as a result of a crime, many people might not have been able to memorialize him properly had the pastor at his church not spilled a few beans that he discovered – mostly be accident – during his conversations with the family just before the funeral. In those talks, several family members mentioned Aspbergers in an off-hand manner as a part of the deceased's life that lead to some difficult times and tough emotions for several in the young man's family. And, after hearing the condition mentioned so many times, the pastor finally asked permission from the family to use some of the time he would be allocated at the funeral to urge attendees to support several Aspberger's awareness organizations that the pastor knew to be active in the very area. At first, the family members were reluctant to allow this, but, in the hours before the funeral, the relented. And the awareness groups reported that they received 10's of thousands of dollars in the next two months, all of the money coming in honor of the deceased – who was then featured in the next edition of one of the group's newsletters.
Briefly Document the Crime on Grave Markers
Something very important to keep in mind about memorializing a victim of a crime is a detail that may seem contradictory to one of our previous suggestions: do not forget to somehow document the crime that took the person's life on grave markers – and, if possible, even obituaries. This may seem in conflict with our earlier advice urging memorials to minimize the role of the murder. But, when one considers that we are recommending only a very brief notice of the crime, it may seem reasonable. Just a quick mention of a murder in small print on a headstone will go a long way toward helping historians of the future to figure out what happened to the deceased and will assure that a criminal does not literally get away with murder in the pages of history. Please note that we do emphasize the word “quick” and “very brief.”While naming the criminal is purely optional, it may not be necessary on such a memorial. Simply mentioning a murder and, perhaps, a date – in very small print, perhaps directly below a much larger epitaph that would be the central design element of a headstone – will be sufficient for historians who may be interested in the murder to find the details in other sources (old newspaper articles, family records, etc.). The important thing to keep in mind on this type of memorial for a crime victim is that grave markers, like funerals, are not a good place to express rage or vengeance toward someone who has killed a loved one. Those sentiments can be well documented elsewhere, and a trust can be found that anyone with a little curiosity who sees a brief notice about a murder and then digs into the case a little further will quickly come across the notes of outrage and cries for justice that are sure to come from just about any one who ever spent time with the deceased.