October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Domestic violence, also referred to as intimate partner violence, impacts more than 12 million people each year in the United States.
Domestic violence knows no boundaries; it permeates every culture, race, age, class, socioeconomic or educational status, sexual orientation, ideology, disability, and theology. No one is exempt from the possibility of victimization.
While both men and women experience domestic violence, they do not do so in equal rates. According to various estimates, women are 5 to 8 times more likely than men to experience violence at the hands of an intimate partner. Moreover, at least one-third of all female homicide victims in the U.S. are killed by male intimate partners — husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends, and estranged lovers.
On average, three women are killed each day. And many of these women are killed after leaving their abusive partner — women are 70 times more likely to be killed in the two weeks after leaving than at any other time during the relationship.
Given the prevalence of domestic homicide, it is possible that your funeral home will at some point, if you haven’t already, serve a family who has lost a loved one to domestic violence. This reality hit home in an extremely personal way last month when our family attended the funeral of my husband’s 26-year-old cousin who was strangled by her ex-husband.
Despite having worked in the domestic violence field for years, I had never personally known someone killed by their abuser nor had I attended the funeral of a domestic violence victim. This experience led me to think about how a funeral home might best serve the families of such a tragic loss, honor the deceased, and create awareness about domestic violence.
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Dynamics of Domestic Violence
First, it should be noted that domestic violence is a very intimate and often shame-inducing, secretive issue. Many victims do not tell others about the abuse they experience nor do they even identify themselves as a victim of domestic violence. Victims often blame themselves for the abuse and become isolated from family and friends, either to avoid anyone finding out about the abuse or because the abuser intentionally keeps them from having relationships with others.
These dynamics of victimization may cause great frustration among family and friends. If they are aware of the abuse, family and friends often cannot understand why the victim stays in the relationship or returns to the abuser after having left for a period of time. They may become angry after repeated offers to help seemingly go unheeded. They may feel guilty for not having known what was going on in the relationship or feeling they didn’t do enough to help or prevent the tragic outcome.
For all these reasons, it is important that you tread lightly and are sensitive to the families’ wishes. Not all families will want to acknowledge (either personally and/or publicly) the reality surrounding their loved one’s death. They may not wish to “label” the death a domestic violence homicide. Likewise, they may not wish to use their loved one’s funeral as an opportunity to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence. That, of course, is a decision for each family to make and you can assist them in making that decision.
Serving Families Who Wish To Keep the Domestic Violence Private
For those families who do not want to publicly acknowledge the domestic violence nature of their loved one’s death, you still have an important role to play in helping them cope with the tragedy and any feelings of guilt, confusion, and/or anger they may be experiencing. One of the most important things you can do for them is connect them with resources and experts on the topic of domestic violence.
Get to know your local domestic violence program(s) and advocates. Learn about the services they offer and encourage families who are having difficulty processing and understanding their loved one’s victimization to reach out to them from help.
Most domestic violence programs offer 24/7 crisis lines for victim advocacy and support. Give this number and other materials from the local domestic violence program to your family. If you are unfamiliar with the domestic violence programs in your area, you can find them at DomesticShelters.org, a free, online searchable database of domestic violence programs nationally.
You also can personally educate yourself about domestic violence so you are prepared for difficult conversations with families. A couple of my favorite resources on the topic include:
- The Batterer: A Psychological Profile, by Donald G. Dutton, Susan K. Golant
- Next Time She’ll Be Dead: Battering and How to Stop It, by Ann Jones
Serving Families Who Wish to Acknowledge the Domestic Violence During the Funeral Service
For those families who do want to publicly acknowledge the domestic violence nature of their loved one’s death, there are many options as to how to do so at the funeral. Some ideas include the following:
- Encourage and display purple (the domestic violence awareness color) flowers;
- Suggest family and friends wear purple clothes, accents, or accessories to the service;
- Distribute purple ribbons or purple flower seed packets to family and friends as they arrive or depart the service;
- Include domestic violence information on the back of the prayer card or as an additional insert — for example, the poem by Kimberly A. Collins titled Remember My Name;
- Invite local domestic violence advocates to attend the funeral, to offer support as needed to family and friends, to speak during the service, and/or to distribute domestic violence and program resources;
- Hold a candle lighting ceremony as part of the service in remembrance of the deceased and all others who have lost their lives to domestic violence;
- Conclude the service with a purple balloon release; and/or
- Encourage monetary donations in the deceased’s name to local, state, or national programs working to end domestic violence.
It is important to discuss these options with the family so they can decide how little or how much they want to do. Finding the right balance between honoring the deceased and bringing awareness to domestic violence is imperative. You certainly do not want the domestic violence nature of the death and the deceased’s victimization to outshine the most important aspect of the funeral, which is celebrating the life of the deceased.
In fact, in this situation, even more so than in others, it is important to reclaim the identity of the deceased, remembering the deceased not for how they died but for who they were and how they lived. This can be done by personalizing the funeral with a life journey candle, photo board displays, a meaningful prayer card, a tribute video, opportunities for family and friends to offer written or spoken memories of the deceased, photo keepsake books, and so on.
Other Ways Funeral Homes Can Bring Awareness to Domestic Violence
The opportunities for a funeral home to create awareness about domestic violence do not end after the funeral. Thus, even funeral homes who have not personally served a family who has lost a loved one to domestic violence can do something to make a difference. Some ideas include the following:
- Proactively make relationships with local domestic violence programs so that the relationship is already established in the event you need to call on them for support and resources;
- Start a commemorative plaque or garden in remembrance of those who have lost their lives to domestic violence (it can be specific to those you have personally served or more general to include all victims in your local community or state);
- Recognize October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month by displaying purple ribbons at your funeral home, providing domestic violence information, resources or blog posts on your funeral home website or other social media sites, distributing local domestic violence program cards/brochures in your funeral home, attending domestic violence awareness events in your community or hosting your own event; and/or
- Encourage staff donations to local domestic violence programs; during the holidays you can collect items needed by the local shelter.
For additional information about domestic violence and what you can do to help, please visit the following websites:
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
- The National Domestic Violence Hotline
- National Network to End Domestic Violence
In honor of domestic violence awareness month, Frazer Consultants remembers those who have lost their lives to domestic violence and expresses our sincerest condolences to the families who have suffered the tragic domestic homicide of a loved one.
“If my death had to show what love isn’t
If my death had to show that love shouldn’t hurt
If my death had to make sure another woman told
a friend instead of holding it in
If my death reminds you how beautiful how worthy
you really are.
If my death reminds you to honor all you are daily
Then remember my name
Shout it from the center of your soul
Wake me in my grave
Let ME know My LIVING was not in vain.”
— Kimberly A. Collins, Remember My Name
Rest in Peace Jessica Ann Frazer…we will remember your name.