Traumatic Grief

I have written a chapter in my book Grief Demystified on the variants of maladaptive, or “complicated” grief and found this blog post earlier whilst scrolling through Twitter: Zuka’s Legacy

I thought this post was so well written from a first person narrative and provides a different perspective on the specific issue of a traumatic response to a bereavement.  Not all deaths, whether traumatic or not will result in “trauma” but there can be a traumatic reaction following a death.

This post was written by a bereaved mother after her son suicided and she has graciously consented to let me re-blog this:

PTSD is not the person refusing to let go of the past
but the past refusing to let go of the person
Post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. For the full diagnostic criteria please click here.
Basically when a person has been through trauma, certain events (called triggers) can cause a person to have anxiety, anxiety attacks, or fear. They may avoid situations that may trigger memories, people with PTSD may have nightmares related to the event. It can cause depression, irritability, detachment from others, problems sleeping and problems concentrating..
PTSD is not always an exact replay of the actual event, it’s sometimes a replay of the emotions you felt during the event such as fear, helplessness and sadness (Alice Cariv)

I have had PTSD in the past concerning a bad car accident and a violent relationship with my children’s father but nothing as bad as Zuka’s suicide. When I was in the hospital I was diagnosed with PTSD, I was not surprised, I don’t think you can go through something like this and not have PTSD. I had nightmares every night until I went to the hospital and they gave me a medication to help with nightmares. A couple of incidents have happened that caused pretty major anxiety attacks.

The first one happened the first time we went out after Zuka’s death, We went with very understanding friends for support. It was really hard going out in public and never knowing what make you break down crying. We had a nice dinner and everyone was heading out but I decided to run to the bathroom real quick. On the way out the heavy wooden door banged behind me….Immediately I threw my hands up in front of my face, I was so afraid and felt like I was in shock, I started crying and ran out of there. PTSD can be embarrassing, all the way home I wondered what people who witnessed that anxiety attack must have been thinking.

The next incident occurred when I was at a get together and a guest (who had no idea what happened) brought in his new shot gun to show everyone, I was nervous but when he racked it, I did the same thing, threw my hands up, I was so scared, I started getting out of my chair to run out but my friend jumped up and yelled at them to take the gun out. I think they thought I was afraid of guns, I tried to explain and I was stuttering. It was a very traumatic experience for me, though no one is at fault!

I have had several other incidents, watching movies, loud noises, I just never know what will bring on flashbacks or anxiety attacks. The bad dreams haven’t been about the exact incident but they are about fear and loss.

If you have been through or witnessed a traumatic event that causes reoccurring bad dreams, fear, anxiety, avoidance of situation you may find fear inducing you may have PTSD
Here are some things that may help
Seeking professional help from a counselor, psychiatrist or doctor
Meditation and practice self soothing
Avoid drugs and alcohol which may make the issue worse
Talk about it to a supportive friend or family member
Medication; anti-anxiety medication may help
Take care of yourself, get enough sleep, try to eat healthy meals
Journal about the incident that causes the anxiety attack
be easy on yourself and do not feel responsible for an anxiety attack, it’s not something you can control.
Do some sort of art work or craft to soothe yourself
Here are 20 unexpected coping techniques for PTSD

Check out Kati Morton’s Youtube she has several videos on PTSD and many other mental health videos
Do you have questions, comments or anything you want to share, you can leave a comment below or email me at zukaslegacy@gmail.com

 

Death & the Maiden Guest Blog

Not only does Caroline Lloyd refers to Death and the Maiden as glamorous and cool (thank you Caroline!) she shares her personal and professional journey of grief. Experiences that became the motivation behind her new book: Grief Demystified. The book she wrote that she so desperately wanted when she had disenfranchised grief and had no idea that that was even a thing.

via The Grief Geek — Death & the Maiden

To read my guest blog on the Death and the Maiden website, please click on the link above, or here:

The Grief Geek

 

 

When grief is complicated but it is not complicated grief…

This is a letter written by a grieving daughter who would like to remain anonymous. She’s asked me to post this in the hope that it will help someone else in a similar situation.

Not all relationships are straight forward and ‘ideal’.  Ambiguous or complicated relationships can (but don’t always) lead to ambiguous or complicated grieving.  This is not the same as complicated grief which is different.

If you’d like to know more about why grief is so individualistic, or what complicated grief is, or have any other questions, take a look at my new book “Grief Demystified: An Introduction”:

Grief Demystified on Amazon

“Dear ‘Dad’,
I’m pretty confident you’ll be wondering why the inverted commas. Of the few communications I’ve ever received from you over the past 50 years, you have always referred to yourself as ‘dad’. My opinion is that the label has responsibilities and expectations that you have never demonstrated, so you are not worthy of that title.

Your daddy’s girl was left bewildered and devastated when you left without telling anyone when I was 6 years old. I thought I’d done something wrong and I was being punished. No-one told me any different. No-one talked about you, but I do remember your mother chasing you down the street with a bread knife threatening to kill you… that image pretty much sums up the memories of my childhood: violence, shouting, fear, neglect, suffering, confusion. I found out many years later, that you had left after coming home and finding my mother on the floor having taken an overdose of pills. I guess she couldn’t take your drunk or drugged up violence and the trips to the hospital any more.

I tried to get to know you when I was a teenager; I even emigrated to the country you were living in to do so. In hindsight, I was still seeking reparation for the ‘wrongdoing’ I had done that had ‘made’ you leave when I was 6. You rewarded my efforts by getting drunk every.single.night, vehemently denying everything you did that I witnessed as a child, and swinging for me with your fists. The irony of course is that to everyone else you were happy, generous and fun.

After trying and failing to build a relationship as a daughter with you, I moved countries. But you would get drunk and ring me to verbally abuse my life choices. I had sold out because I lived in America; you hated the country. I had sold out because I was the first person to go to university in the family; who did I think I was? I had sold out because I worked a lot and didn’t party like you; I was boring and ‘Americanised’. Eventually I moved and didn’t give you my phone number. After failing to build a daughter relationship with you, you wouldn’t allow me to even have an adult relationship with you.

The last time I saw you was when your beloved mother was ill, that was twenty years ago. You flew back to our home town to visit her prior to her death. I found out you were home because my mother received a phone call summoning me to a pub to see you. I went, as I always did; I never wanted a reason to feel guilty or accused of not being receptive to a relationship with you, even if it was on your dysfunctional terms.

After years of peace and quiet, you started sending me friend requests on Facebook that I kept rejecting. After a while your persistence paid off and I accepted you. But you never even say ‘happy birthday’ to me either publicly or privately.

I had to ring you 11 years ago to tell you that the grandchild you had never met was terminally ill. Your exact words are seared into my memory like branding on a farm animal, “shit, I’m having such a bad week, first an argument with my girlfriend, now this.” Your first thought was about yourself, the non-existent ‘grandfather’, you never asked about the three year old child that was dying of cancer, you never asked how your daughter was while she was watching her son die in her arms. Sadly, after 40 years of life, I didn’t expect anything else from you. That statement pretty much summed you up. I haven’t spoken to you since.

I hear that you have died. I had anticipated that at some point I would have to deal with your death and the ambiguous feelings that would arise. I was never sure how this would feel for me; would I feel nothing because we have a virtually non-existent relationship, or would I feel emotions because you gave me life? I have ambiguous feelings, which accurately reflect the ambiguous relationship we had.

They say your parents fuck you up, I would agree with that. But as an adult, you have the choice whether to maintain that status or change it. They may have given you a beaten up old car, but you sure as hell can choose to pimp that mother up. And that’s what I’ve done. So thank you for contributing to fucking me up, you provided me with an array of tools with which to understand complexities I may never have understood if I’d had two normal parents, a dog and a white picket fence.

One of those complexities is dealing with people who didn’t know you; those friends and your wife that you lied to about your past. They are sainting you online, sending condolences to the ‘family’ you never had any contact with, talking to you in ‘heaven’. Who am I to shatter their illusions?

That 6 year old girl will never understand why you didn’t love her enough to be her dad, and this 50 year old will always envy those that have a dad that loves and cares for them.

I did find a short letter you sent twenty years ago following your visit to our home town and the last time I saw you. It contained a photo of us together in that pub, and your words ‘all my love dad xxxxx’. It is the only tangible proof I have that you existed. It is the only tangible proof I have that you may have had some feelings towards me underneath that selfish persona. So, thank you for that, and for triggering some happier memories that I’ve managed to retrieve and receive comfort from.

I hope you Rest In Peace ‘Dad’, I love you now as I loved you then, because despite the pimping out, the bodywork always remains the same…”

As always, this content is copywrited and may not be used without my explicit permission.

Let’s talk about suicide…

I’ve been reading a lot of posts about suicide since the sad announcement of Chris Cornell’s death yesterday.  Most of the information provided is assumptive, and not based on research or statistics.  Here are some of the facts from the World Health Organization’s 2015 dataset:

  1. Suicide is not the most common cause of death; it is the 17th leading method of death worldwide.
  2. Suicide does not just affect young people; it occurs throughout the lifespan.
  3. It is not just men that suicide, women do too.
  4. Close to 800,000 die via suicide each year, with many more attempted.
  5. Suicide can be prevented.

Why is suicide different to any other death?

Suicide is different because the person who we love chose to end their own life prematurely. That sentence on its own is a powerful concept to process, as it throws up all kinds of questions and emotions. It also alters the way other people interact with us as grievers.

There are many reasons why bereavement can be different after suicide and they can include:

  • The questioning of religious beliefs
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Stigma
  • Denial
  • Absence of support
  • Silence
  • Other people’s perception or interpretation of the situation both pre death and of the death
  • Curiosity
  • Police involvement
  • Coroner involvement
  • Rejection
  • Heightened fear of genetics
  • But mainly “why?”

What are some of the reasons for suicide?

Aside from obvious mental health issues, such as drug addiction or bipolar disorder, that may lead a person to suicidal thoughts and actions, there are four psychological needs that need to be met, according to an expert in suicide, Dr. Nicola Tweedie[1] :

Thwarted Love;

We all want to feel loved, accepted, and that we belong.  If we feel isolated or lonely. or excluded from our network groups, this can lead to low self worth. Alternatively, wanting to belong to a displaced group e.g. where there is a spate of teenage suicides in an area, can be seductive.  The perception of joining them and becoming part of the group is a powerful attraction.   Suicide can therefore appear to be a solution i.e. “no-one ever loved me anyway, no-one will care” either as a result of exclusion or the desire to be included.

Fractured Control:

Most humans enjoy predictability, stability, autonomy and some order in their lives.  When there is a perception of no or little control, for example when we lose a job, are declared bankrupt, or divorce etc., suicide can seem like the only option to escape from the situation.

Assaulted Self Image:

In situations where someone has been bullied or subject to any manner of abuse, the resulting emotions can be shame, humiliation, or other associated feelings.  This can lead to the perception that the only way to cope with these feelings, particularly when functionally crippling, is to avoid them.  However if the emotions are too overwhelming, and possibly having a significant traumatic effect, suicide may be perceived as an escape route.

Excessive Anger:

Rage and hostility are associated with frustrated needs, and can lead to the ultimate act of rage against the human form.

Why is suicide different for grievers?

Van Derwal (1989)[2] identified the areas that are qualitatively different for those bereaved from suicide:

  • A prolonged search for the motive.
  • Denying the cause of death due to stigma and societal responses.
  • Feelings of rejection (both by the deceased and sometimes society).
  • Religious questioning.
  • They are more often likely to conceal the cause from others.
  • A heightened fear of a genetic /increased risk of suicide for themselves and their family.

How do we support those bereaved through suicide?

There is a simple answer to that question; in the same way you support anyone through a life event that is overwhelming and devastating:  with empathy, compassion, open mindedness & authenticity.  Just being there and/or listening is enough.

(Please note: The use of the word ‘committed’ with reference to ‘committed suicide’ is not particularly sensitive to the bereaved due to connotations of ‘committing’ a crime, particularly if the griever has a religious affiliation.)

For further resources see:

http://www.annemoss.com – a blog by a bereaved mother after her son suicided

http://www.Samaritans.org  – a helpline and support for anyone feeling suicidal

http://www.uk-sobs.org.uk – for support if bereaved through suicide

[1] http://finder.bupa.co.uk/Consultant/view/183553/dr_nicola_tweedie

[2] Van der Wal, J. (1989-90). The aftermath of suicide: A review of empirical evidence. Omega, 20, 149-171.

Grief Demystified..

Please see my previous post about why I had to delete several of my informational blogs. In the meantime I’ve been busy putting all of the information from them, plus a whole lot more, into a book comissioned by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
The book will be called Grief Demystified and explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know: do men and women grieve differently? why do we grieve for famous people? how do I know if I’ve grieved properly? and what to say to the  bereaved, plus many more questions answered.  It also includes a list of recommended bereavement organisations that provide online resources, offline support and signposting.  It also includes an extensive list of references if, like me, you are interested in furthering your knowledge in grief and bereavement from the experts.

And best of all- there are diagrams and photos for visual learners and the easily bored 🙂

I shall write more blogs soon about the myths that still pervade on social media, because I keep seeing misleading articles and outdated information…

Death and Culture in York- My Thoughts..

I just wanted to return here to document some interesting ideas and information I gleaned from the recent Death and Culture Conference at York University. The conference was an interdisciplinary event involving a wide array of perspectives across the full range of death, dying and bereavement topics, but not excluding other related areas.  Here is a summary of my highlights from a varied and fascinating three day programme:

Dr Karina Croucher presented a very interesting talk about her partnership with Christina Faull of LOROS Hospice in Leicester on their joint research, combining archaeology and continuing bonds.  An unusual combination on the surface until she explains ‘I study the mortuary practices (i.e. the ways in which people reacted to death and treated their dead) in the past’ and then you realise this joint research is completely logical and will be fascinating when completed.

Brenda Mathijssen spoke on the theme of continuing bonds.   She talked about the wearing and retention of ashes and how these items, created from the remains of our loved ones, are so significant when we are initially bereaved, but over time they lose their significance.  The continuation of bonds that are so necessary for us to grieve, ultimately become transformed bonds- which reminded me of J. William Worden’s final stage of relocating the deceased.  Interestingly she stated that there is a 30 day waiting period in The Netherlands after cremation before you can collect the ashes.  Those 30 days are designed for thinking and processing.

Dr Heather Conway raised the issue that there are currently 3.5 billion internet users worldwide, so  consideration should be given to the legal aspects concerning our digital legacy.  There are many issues to consider: what is a digital asset and what expires at death, the etiquette of virtual cemeteries, digital wills, Facebook memorials, other social media sites and legacy or deletion decisions.  She asked; are digital companies sustaining the view of an afterlife, how are the hierarchies of grief affected, what about contested narratives, what should the virtual memorial rules be etc.

Chao Fang delivered a fascinating presentation on the advent of ‘Shidu’ or the loss of an only child in China.  Due to the government policy of one child per family, the death of a child has political ramifications that perhaps don’t exist in other cultures.  Additionally, older people in China are reliant on their children as there is little social support, so the loss of their child has significant secondary loss implications, including financial implications.  There is also a ‘shame’ in not having children in China, that makes them feel that they are ‘unable to face their ancestors’ after the death of an only child, and that this is ‘the most distressing thing ever’.

There were also talks that discussed the issue of the ‘social dead’ i.e. slaves in Capetown and Barbados. I wondered about the bereaved and their ability to process meaning making after such heinous events, but the focus was on the deaths and lack of memorialisation not the living…

There were also presentations about the sensationalism of murderers and the lack of narrative surrounding the victims. I wondered if I would welcome public reminders of my loved one if they had been murdered?

Lastly a special mention & thanks to Dr Ruth Penfold-Mounce and colleagues for organising this event, it must have been a lot of work but well worth it – a fabulous time was had by all!

What do you say to a bereaved person?

I’ve been asked many times what do you say to someone who has been bereaved, my advice is try not to give them platitudes.  It’s easy to say things that we think will help but can actually be quite hurtful. The following are examples of what not to say to someone who is grieving:

  1. ‘I know how you feel’ -No-one knows how anyone feels because you are not them and you are not in their body or mind. This is a simple statement to make and seems obvious but having empathy or sympathy does not mean you know how they feel.   I would suggest asking: ‘How are you feeling?’ instead. Allow them to express themselves if they choose to and respect the fact that they may not want to.
  2. ‘They are in a better place now’ – This is a contentious statement to make. Everyone has their own personal beliefs on what happens after death but even more than that, the griever wants more than anything to have that person back so this statement can be interpreted to mean that the deceased is better off out of the griever’s life. As an alternative, I would suggest you allow the griever to talk about the deceased and their life together.
  3. ‘You can always have more children’ – the last thing a parent who has lost a child will want to think about is having more children. The mere suggestion that they could have more (and potentially they may not be able to conceive again) is insulting and just about the worst thing you could say to them. To a grieving parent this statement can suggest the child that has died can be replaced. No words can express the depth of grief a parent experiences after the death of a child, the loss of their dreams for that child and their lives together so this statement can be incredibly painful and hurtful. Instead the child should be honoured and memorialised and the kindest thing you can do is to talk about the child.
  4. ‘It gets easier after X months/years’ – please see my earlier blog about the myths of the stages of grief.   The emotions experienced after a death should certainly subside with time but grief is not a linear process and time is relative; it’s a real human experience full of complex emotions, thoughts and changes in identity and roles. Life does change and evolve after a bereavement but stating there is a timeline or that it gets ‘easier’ can undermine the significance of the loss to the bereaved. Instead offer support for as long as they need it in whatever way is needed.
  5. ‘’At least….xxxx’ –This really should be taken out of our vocabulary when speaking to a bereaved person.

These are a few of the most common platitudes said to the bereaved and the reasons why they should’nt be used. There are no ‘right’ words to say and sometimes we all say things we wish we had’nt because we can’t always predict the impact of our words on someone who is feeling intense emotions. Conversely avoiding or ignoring a griever because you don’t know what to say can be equally as hurtful. Genuineness and authenticity should not be underestimated and a simple ‘how are you?’ or ‘is there anything I can do?’ can go a long way to helping a griever.

  • ‘*Update -–I wrote the above blog 8 months ago and today I heard about the death of a baby of someone I’m friendly with.  Sadly this person’s baby was born eight months ago when I wrote this and he brought joy & dreams into this family that are now totally devastated.  This is what I said ‘I have no words to say to you that are adequate…I’m so, so sorry for your loss and my heart goes out to you.  I am here for you if you ever want to chat at any time or if I can do anything.’  I will contact this person at regular intervals after the funeral to just ask ‘how are you’ or ‘is there anything I can do?’.  I hope that’s helpful.