Violent acts of homicide committed against youth or children can lead to prolonged, devastating, and painful effects on their surviving mothers. Sudden unexpected deaths of descendants can lead to anger, guilt, sorrow, and isolation affecting survivors both emotionally and physically. Descendants’ deaths before the mothers’ deaths are unnatural and can lead to a decline in a survivor’s social actions, a rise in hospitalization rates, higher cases of mortality, complicated grief, and symptoms of PTSD. Cases of disenfranchised grief can surface after a survivor’s loss is ignored or no longer culturally allowed. Instances of empathic failure can result when empathy from a survivor’s interpersonal team tends to cease far before the surviving mother expects or feels it is needed. This reaction can adversely affect the grieving mother.

This exploratory qualitative study sought to replicate findings of an inductive case study that researched the effects of four themes of empathic failure experienced by a single parent African American mother who lost her only son to a violent act of homicide. The four themes of empathic failure reflected a survivor’s relationship with her interpersonal team, herself, resiliency with professional systems, and with her primary support system. In contrast, this study discovered five different themes emerging from the four surviving mothers of murdered descendants. These themes were derived from survivors’ responses to open-ended, semi-structured interview questions and reflected survivor’s feelings of anger, fear, lack of compassion from law enforcement, the impact of professional services, and unexpected residual consequences after a homicide. Results of these mothers’ experiences and relied on methods of recovery answered this study’s research questions. Narrative analysis and membership categorization revealed three initial experiences/emotions mothers felt after learning of the murder of their loved one(s). All four mothers of this research noted a destabilization of their family structure after the homicide. An implication for practice would include recognizing affected mothers’ emotional needs after descendants’ homicides. Conclusions indicate survivors want their individual narratives told and do not want their murdered loved one(s) forgotten. Finally, this study’s findings did not fully support the case study which was replicated herein.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Mothers of murder victims -- United States -- Attitudes; African American mothers -- United States -- Attitudes; Grief -- Social aspects -- United States

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Barbara Mather