Living in the Aftermath of Traumatic Death

Post by Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW

The sudden unexpected, traumatic death of a loved one is something like having a limb torn off.

Shocking. As if the air has been sucked from your lungs and you can’t manage another breath.

Numbness dances with disbelief. Pain makes an appearance, but it is so raw and intense that it cannot be borne in full yet. Numbness and disbelief choreograph a protective pattern that only allows pain to play a cameo role in the immediate aftermath of a near mortal blow.

The death leaves a gaping wound with grief flowing out, covering you and splashing onto all of those around you.

Some back away in fear, or distaste as your grief spurts, just as your lifeblood would from a physical wound.

It feels deadly. You’re not sure you will survive. At times you hope you won’t. You wish that you would disappear from life, like your loved one has, and that you would reappear wherever they are now.
It doesn’t work like that. This deep, intense, raw pain feels fatal, but it’s not.

You keep breathing. One ragged, sobbing breath after another. You try to find some small comfort, wrapping yourself in a blanket, or some piece of clothing that smells like them.

You sip tea. Maybe something stronger, although that doesn’t really help. It just blurs the pain a little, until the substance wears off and you’re left with your broken heart and a hangover.

You stare, distracted, not seeing what’s in front of you. Instead, your mind is running through a turbulent gauntlet of regrets, shattered dreams and the sharp edges of memories that tear at your broken heart.
You try to reach out, to talk to others about how you feel, but most don’t understand.

“Aren’t you over that?” “What can you do to get closure?” “It’s time to move on.”

So, you struggle, feeling alone. Battered by waves of grief washing powerfully over you as you try to adjust to life without your loved one.

Whether one loses a limb or loses a beloved to sudden, traumatic death, one must adapt, relearning many tasks according to the new reality.

Your beloved is gone. If your routines involved making two cups of coffee, you must remember to only make one. If your habits involved an annual retreat together in a favourite vacation spot, you must decide whether to try someplace new or go to the familiar haunt alone. Either way, the trip will feel as if you are marinating in their absence.

Breathe. Just keep breathing. When the pain is so intense there is nothing you can do, just breathe until you are ready for the next thing.

The wound will heal, though it will leave scars. You will never be the same as you were before. Your broken heart will ache when the memories blow over you just as physical wounds ache on damp, cold days. In time, and with compassionate attention to the healing process your grief will shift, and you will find ways to carry it. Be gentle with yourself. Don’t try to rush – you can’t hurry grief. Move through this process in your own way, in your own time and know there is nothing wrong with you. Your grief is a reflection of your love, and your deep love is worthy of this.

Written by, Maureen Pollard, MSW, RSW