Traumatic Bereavement

It is always difficult if you lose a loved one and traumatic sudden death can take longer to recover from. Before you can grieve you may need to accept the way your loved one was taken.

With traumatic sudden bereavement, your loved one may have been taken by someone else's actions e.g. road death or murder. How can someone contemplate how a human can kill another human? You may experience split and confusing loyalties, e.g in a case of domestic violence where a family member has killed another. There may be delays in procedural process e.g. releasing the body, the added upset of a post mortem, waiting for a Coroner's Report, ongoing investigation, court hearings, trials etc.

Professionals encourage us to talk about our loss, but with homicide or deaths that involve a criminal investigation you are not allowed to discuss the case. You may be unsure what you are allowed to say, for fear of jeopardising the investigation. You may feel that you are being watched by the world, especially in high profile cases or cases where children are involved. You may have to endure lies or hearing your loved one being slandered and feel unable to 'stand up' for them. It may feel as though you have no rights or are being muted.

Friends or other family members may not know how to cope with death and might even avoid you. This could make you feel more isolated. Even more challenging is the possibility that the perpetrator's friends / family could be living close by and you do not want to go out in fear of encountering them. You may not know even who the killer is.
When a person is killed in traumatic way it can affect the whole community, with a vast ripple effect, from immediate close family and friends to neighbours, emergency services and the general public. It can spark compassion and empathy in everyone of us. Recent cases and social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter have demonstrated this.

We all experience grief differently. However the main phases of bereavement are:

  • Shock - a feeling of numbness, withdrawal, detachment, unable to express emotions, walking around in a daze.
  • Denial - not accepting the death has happened, avoidance,not wanting to think about it and keeping busy. In severe grief people may experience hallucinations and be convinced they hear their loved one's voice.
  • Depression - despair, pain, crying, moaning, wanting to 'give up'.
  • Guilt - thinking about the 'what ifs' e.g. 'If only I have done this, it would not have happened', 'Why could it not be me?'. In time being able to laugh or be happy can bring on feelings of guilt.
  • Anxiety - panic of what life will be like without them. Concerns on how to cope.
  • Anger - Wanting someone to blame, or anger being directed at your loved one for leaving you.
  • Acceptance - letting go, saying good-bye, moving on with hope, adjusting your life without your loved one.

These phases are rarely experienced in this order. You do not go through these phases, the phases go through you, similar to an emotional roller coaster. One second you may feel shock, then immediately feel anger, into anxiety and so it goes on. There is no time frame or limit on the length of time a person takes to grieve. The first year is the most challenging - dealing with special events such as birthdays or anniversaries. In cases where criminal investigation has to take place this can delay the grieving process even further. In some cases people can not grieve until the trial and conviction is over.

So what can you do if you have been affected by a traumatic death?

  • First and foremost allow yourself time to grieve and recognise your loss, try not to avoid it by keeping busy.
  • It is ok to be hurting and perfectly normal to feel sad or miss the person who has died.
  • You are not alone in your experience of loss. Every one at some stage has lost someone close to them and everyone will react differently. Do not compare how you are grieving to someone else. We are unique, that is what makes us human.
  • Take care of you. Take plenty of rest, it is normal to feel tired or emotionally drained. Do things that help you relax, taking a bath, doodling, colouring, reading, listening to music etc
  • Take each second/minute/hour/day/week as it comes. Whatever is easier to bear.
  • Create yourself an emotional first aid kit. Take a shoe box, wrap it in bright coloured wrapping paper and inside keep things that make you feel better, for example some chocolate, inspirational poems, aromatherapy oils, a cuddly toy, play dough, a favourite CD or DVD anything which will help you feel better.
  • Do not be afraid to speak to you GP if you are finding it hard to cope.
  • Write a journal about how you are feeling, if it helps, you can write as though you are writing to your loved one.
  • Get a day time routine going schedule in things you enjoy doing i.e. meeting a friend.
  • It is ok to talk about your loved one and share your memories with others.
  • When you feel ready create a memory box for your loved one. It can be filled with old photos of them, anything that reminds you of them.
  • Light a candle or release a balloon in memory of them on special occasions.
  • Go out in the fresh air for walk. Walking will release the endorphins in your body that are our natural ‘feel good’ factors. Being ‘at one with nature’ can be very therapeutic.
  • Accept any support from friends whether it is practical or emotional. People would not offer if they did not want to help. They offer because they care. Don’t be proud we all need comfort and looking after some of the time.
  • Talk to a good therapist who is experienced in bereavement. You do not need to pretend to be strong with the therapist or afraid of upsetting them. They did not know your loved one. You will able to speak to them in confidence knowing you will not be judged.
  • Finally give yourself time the grieving process can not be rushed, do not be afraid to cry. You will get through this.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Burton On Trent, Staffordshire, DE13
Written by Jackie Rogers, MBACP Accredited (Serenity Counselling)
Burton On Trent, Staffordshire, DE13

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