Grieving a Loved One Lost to Domestic Violence

two people hold hands while grieving a loved one lost to domestic violence
two people hold hands while grieving a loved one lost to domestic violence

Warning: This story contains descriptions of domestic and intimate partner violence, including losing a loved one to domestic violence. This information may bring up painful feelings or memories, so please take care of yourself. If you or someone you know are grieving a loved one lost to domestic violence, help is available. We are available 24/7/365 through phone, text, or chat. You are not alone.

It’s devastating when you lose a loved one, no matter how it happens. If the person you love is tragically taken by domestic violence, it can be even more painful. On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the US. Our commonality means we likely know someone who has experienced abuse. It also shows how dangerous domestic violence can be. It’s scary to hear, but survivors experience many life-threatening moments that could potentially escalate to death.

Regardless of how your loved one passes away, you may experience overwhelming grief. Even though grief can be painful, there are some ways in which it can be helpful. It allows us to acknowledge the person who died and share memories of them. It also creates a space to process their death and the many ways life changes after you lose a loved one.

However, having a loved one killed by domestic violence causes some additional reactions compared to someone dying due to old age or sickness. You may feel:

  • Worried about your safety and your loved ones’ safety
  • Haunted by images or flashbacks of the person’s death
  • Afraid of strangers or afraid that the perpetrator will be violent again

These reactions are normal when you lose someone you love to violence. These feelings and others are all part of grieving a loved one.

5 Stages of Grief

The loss of a loved one is one of the most distressing and, unfortunately, common experiences people experience at some point in their lives. Though each person experiences grief differently – some complicated and others uncomplicated – there are some similarities. Grief typically entails five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Gradually, these feelings disappear, and acceptance of loss can be achieved.

It's important to know that grief is not a linear process. You may skip stages, remain in one for years, or return to a different stage as time progresses. No one's journey is the same.

Understanding the 5 stages of grief can help you understand the journey of healing from the loss of a loved one.

Stage 1: Denial

There are many ways you may experience denial of your loved one’s death. You might feel disbelief that the person is not around anymore, and you won’t see them again. You may be in denial that they were going through something so terrible as domestic violence and relationship abuse. Even if you knew about the abuse, you probably thought that it would never result in death.

Another form of denial is refusing to discuss the loss and acting like everything is okay. People often bury themselves in work, hobbies, or other things so they don’t have to think about their loss. Grief is an overwhelming emotion, so it’s normal to deny or ignore it.

Stage 2: Anger

Losing a loved one to domestic violence can trigger feelings of anger in a variety of ways. You might be angry that the person didn’t tell you about the abuse earlier, or angry that others didn’t help the person. You could be angry at the police and feel like they didn’t do anything. It’s also normal to be angry at the abusive partner for the violence they committed. Many people are angry at themselves for not recognizing the signs of domestic violence or ‘doing enough’ to help their friend.

Stage 3: Bargaining

This stage can happen before and after losing a loved one. It is often used to regain some control over your emotions and the situation. It’s a way to feel like you can change the event outcome.

While your loved one is alive and experiencing abuse, you may say, “If my friend leaves, I’ll never be mean to them again.” After experiencing loss, many people turn to ‘if only’ thinking such as:

  • “If only I’d known what was happening, I could have helped.”
  • “If only we could’ve found them a shelter or other place to stay.”
  • “If only the police had done something, things would have been better.”

No matter what deal or bargain you try to make during this phase, it’s all about attempting to undo something irreversible.

Stage 4: Depression

In some ways, depression can feel like a quiet stage of grief. Quite often, this stage seems to go on for a long time. Other stages, such as anger or bargaining, may be characterized by running away from your emotions. However, at this stage of grief, people often embrace their feelings or can’t find another way to avoid them. Some people become isolated during this stage; they either take time alone to process their feelings or get overwhelmed.

Depression can be difficult to identify and define. You may feel tired and foggy, or disinterested in the things you like. It can be easy to feel stuck at this stage. While this is not the same as major depressive disorder, it can become it. Reaching out to a counselor or mental health expert can be helpful during this time.

Stage 5: Acceptance

Sadness and grief never fully fade but they become manageable. Acceptance is learning to live with the loss of your loved one and its many changes.  People accept that it wasn’t their fault and they couldn’t save them. At this stage of grieving a loved one, you may still feel sadness, but you’re no longer immobilized by grief and loss. It’s a time when joy and sorrow live side-by-side. Things will still remind you of them, but it may be a happier or more loving memory that comes up.

Taking care of yourself while grieving a loved one.

It’s hard to practice self-care when grieving a loved one. Those emotions can impact your motivation and dampen your interest in hobbies or activities. However, self-care is an important part of grieving. Focusing on your emotional and physical self-care is important. Social connection can also be a good form of self-care. Self-care won’t necessarily end the grief, but it puts you in a better place to navigate it.

Emotional Self-care

Grief brings up so many emotions. It’s important to find ways to process and tend to those feelings. Consider these ideas:

  • Create a peaceful space for yourself where you can rest, process, and find quiet.
  • Use a journal to write about what you’re experiencing. This can be through poetry, stories, or stream of consciousness rambling.
  • Allow yourself to cry. The feelings grief brings can be overwhelming at times and our body needs to regulate everything that’s happening. A good cry can be a helpful and cathartic release of some of the grief.
Physical Self-care

While grieving a loved one is emotionally heavy, it also does impact our bodies. Grief can make you lose motivation and not want to be active. It can affect your sleep. It can even lead to more major physical or mental health issues. There are many ways to take care of your physical self.

  • Do some light stretching or go on a walk. Gentle and basic movement can be helpful when you’re feeling low and can help energize you.
  • Get enough sleep. Dealing with heavy emotions can be exhausting, so make sure you are getting a good amount of sleep to help your body recover.
  • Take a shower or bath. Grief can feel sluggish and heavy, so a nice shower or bath can be a way to rinse away some of the feelings and feel refreshed.
  • Be like a plant! This means drinking plenty of water and getting some sun. These basic needs can help you feel more awake and less sluggish.
Social Connection

One aspect of self-care doesn’t involve the self, but other people. Social connection is exactly what it sounds like – connecting with other people for socializing and time together. Social connection looks different for everyone. It could be playing games with friends or online or getting coffee with a loved one. It can be focused time together to talk about your loss or simply a chance to be together.  After a loss, it’s normal to be withdrawn and isolated. You are dealing with pain and grief, and it can be hard to share that with others.

If you can connect with friends, family, or a support group, it’s okay to state your needs directly. For example, you may want to hang out with friends but only play games and not talk about your grief. Or you may call someone specifically to talk about your sadness and grief. It’s okay to be direct and tell them what you need at that moment. Like with all self-care, you should do what feels best and most refreshing to you.

Finding help with grieving a loved one lost to domestic violence.

Everyone’s grief journey is unique; some people find solace in getting support from others, while others prefer to process it alone. How you process your grief is up to you, but there are many ways to approach it. Self-care is important when you’re grieving a loved one but getting professional support can help too.

Remember, there is no timeline for grieving. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace no matter how long you grieve.

Counseling and Support Resources

Grief and loss bring up so many big and complicated emotions. It can be hard to know where to even start processing your feelings. Getting help from professionals or peers can help you process grief and get support from others.

Learn more about the different options available when looking for help.


A warmline is a peer-run support line staffed by people in mental health recovery. It’s great when you need someone to vent to or you just need someone to listen. You can find warmlines in your area here.

National Alliance for Mental Illness

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is a great resource if you have questions or concerns about depression and your mental health. You can call them at 1-800-950-6264 or visit them online.

Individual Counseling

An individual counselor who focuses on grief can also help. Finding the right therapist can be hard (and expensive), but there are ways to find the right fit for you. Sites such as Good Therapy, Online Therapy, or Network Therapy are good starting places to find a therapist.

Support Groups

You may also want to contact your local domestic violence center. Local programs sometimes offer support groups to family members who are grieving a loved one. If they don’t offer those services, they can refer you to other organizations that can help. Use our Local Resources directory to locate a group near you.

Remember, The Hotline is available 24/7 to offer support, care, and help with finding resources. Through call, chat, or text, we're here for you.