“How to Deal with Traumatic Loss” 

Dr. Anthony NgOne of the toughest experiences we have all faced or will face one day is the loss of a loved one like family or spouse or close friends and colleagues. Such losses may be sudden, as from an accident, victims of violence or sudden illness or such losses may be from chronic illness. When such a loss occurs, those affected experience what is commonly known as bereavement. This is often a difficult time not only for the people who experience the loss but also their friends and families, who often may not be comfortable or know how to help the affected persons deal with the loss. They may worry about what to say or do for fear of making the person feel worse.Most of all, it is important to understand that bereavement is a very normal and common response to traumatic losses. We have developed bonds with people we care about. We may even suffer bereavement from losses of people whom we may not know well but may have some personal connections to. When we grieve, we may have a variety of reactions. They may be emotional, such as extreme sadness, anxiety, with often bouts of crying and tearfulness. There may also be intense anger, either at the individual who died for leaving loved ones or with relationship difficulties in the past when they were alive. This is a common reaction often seen by those who had lost someone to suicide. There may be extreme guilt to those surviving to why they live and the person who they grieved about did not, i.e., victims of a car accident. This is often described as survivor guilt. Individuals who are grieving may have physical complaints, such as stomach upset, headaches or diffuse body aches. There may be loss of appetite and changes in sleep. There may also be concentration and memory difficulties as their thoughts are preoccupied with the memories and thoughts of the person who died. No two individuals will mourn the loss the same way. Some may have more intense reactions then others. Many of the reactions may also be influenced by various factors, such as age and culture. Grief experience by young children may be subdued and very different from adults, but it does not mean their grief is any less. Bereavement is often a temporary response that becomes less intense over time. Most experts feel bereavement may persist for as long as one year, though much of the more intense signs of bereavement usually lessens after two months. Bereavement often ends in the acceptance of the loss of the person. The term resilience has also been used to describe how individuals recover from traumatic losses. There are multiple factors that may influence how one grieves or one’s resilience. This includes our past experiences with losses. The amount of social support or perceived social support may be another factor. Usually, the more support, whether it is family, friends, co-workers or other fellow church members, all serve to enhance an individual’s resilience. If it is a child grieving, family support will be vital in the process. Some individuals who grieve may turn to work or school, or outside activities as a way to cope. Having memorials and gatherings may also appropriate way to deal with the loss. Bereavement responds usually very well to support and grief counseling if need be. However, for some individuals, bereavement may be extremely intense and distressful where professional help may be needed. They may have significant impairment weeks and months after a loss that prevents them from functioning adequately at work, home or school. Some may have marked substance use as a result of the loss. Some may progress to depression, suicidal thoughts and even in severe instances, psychosis. It is important that people with these significant symptoms or impairment seek professional help. Therapy may be helpful and for some, even psychiatric medications may be necessary to treat these symptoms. As I mentioned earlier, bereavement is a very normal part of the grief process of losing someone we care about. While the feelings are extremely distressful and many often feel they have lost part of their lives, many also as part of grieving experience have some sense of growth, renewing their faith, have a different outlook on life, spending more time with family and friends. This has been described as post traumatic growth. Celebration of the lives of those we have lost is often the key.