Hope and Healing After Homicide Loss
Author: Mara Melendez-Bandy
When a loved one passes away, you are not only robbed of their physical presence in the here and now, you lose the chance to spend your future together. Your life after their death becomes filled with thoughts of “If only,” “We would have…” and “I wish…”
Losing a loved one to homicide is devastating because of the pain and anguish of knowing the death was by the hands of another human being. Parents, siblings, family members, and friends can face many complicated issues as they try to make sense of the unfathomable — that someone knowingly, willingly, or intentionally killed their loved one. If you have suffered a homicide loss, I know your grief. I know the anger, fear, confusion, shock, and the driving need to know who and why.
November will mark six years since the loss of my brother, SPC Jose Melendez, Jr. As real as it feels now, it's still hard to believe. I look back and wonder, "How did this many years pass by?" The first hour, day, week, month, and year were by far the hardest. Every year since then, I've been able to cope a little easier, but the anniversaries, birthdays, and new milestones faced without my brother still hit hard.
It was a late November morning, and I caught a local news break: an unknown man was discovered in a parking lot, and he’d been shot. Just hours later, my phone rang. It was my father.
The moment I heard his voice, I knew something was wrong. The words, “Your brother…passed away earlier this morning,” came through the phone, and I felt immediate blackout.
Thoughts swirled — I had just spent Thanksgiving with him a few days before. My chest felt tight. I fell to the ground sobbing and in complete disbelief that my brother was taken from me. How? Why? Who? This felt like a horror movie I could not escape from.
By lunchtime, after the police and the Army had spoken to us, the local news re-released the story, but this time the unidentified man had a name. They identified him as SPC Jose Juan Melendez, Jr., a Fort Bragg soldier who had been found fatally shot in Raleigh, North Carolina.
A year after losing my brother, my mother found TAPS. Our first event was a local Care Group. I felt awkward at first — wondering why I was there. All I knew was that everyone there was grieving a loved one too, and there was comfort in that. After almost two hours of everyone sharing their stories, I was already filling out an online application for a sibling retreat and the National Military Survivor Seminar in May.
That Care Group was the real start to my grief journey. Then came the sibling retreat, which was life-changing. Though all of us had lost our siblings in different ways, we connected because we knew the loss of a brother or sister. I no longer felt “alone” in my grief. But then, at the National Military Survivor Seminar, I met other homicide survivors, and I was no longer fearful to say, “He died by homicide.”
For survivors of all losses, TAPS has this magic that makes us feel like we are not alone in our grief journey. We can connect with anyone — no matter the relationship or how their loved one passed. There will always be someone there to listen and who really cares. There is hope and healing in grief. You can smile again, share in laughter, and create new memories without guilt. I know my brother would want me to keep moving forward, continue my journey by helping others, share my journey, and serve my community. I honor him every day, and I hope I am making him proud.
TAPS Homicide Loss Support
The Homicide Loss Survivor Online Group meets on the fourth Tuesday of every month. The group provides a safe, caring, nonjudgemental space and emotional support to those who know the trauma of losing someone to violent circumstances and who often face ongoing police investigations and trials. TAPS recognizes how hard it can be to express feelings associated with a sudden and violent death. All too often, members of the community feel alone in their pain.
If you lost your military or veteran loved one to homicide, let your TAPS family support you as you face life after loss. Learn more about TAPS Online Groups, see when the Homicide Loss Survivor Group meets, and check our event calendar to register for the events Mara mentions and more opportunities to grow with your grief and your TAPS family.
Mara Melendez-Bandy is the surviving sister of SPC Jose Melendez, Jr., U.S. Army, and serves on the TAPS Survivor Care Team.
Photos: Mara Melendez-Bandy