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 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!

Do as I say and not as I do…?

Today I’m hugely conflicted.

I awake to a smart phone that flashes and beeps 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with social media notifications, and bereavement alerts of one description or another.

But today is not just another day; it’s the anniversary of my nephew’s death.  So I have notifications and reminders of this fact via Facebook, emails & texts- as if I wasn’t already acutely aware of the date.

The conflict is whether I share my memories or photos, or my feelings in such a public forum.  Do I change my profile picture? Post a photo of my nephew? Post a loving memorial telling ‘the world’ how much he’s loved and never forgotten?  Or do I keep quiet, and privately remember, and treasure our short time with him, and all the joy he brought in the three and a half years he was with us?

As a bereavement support worker, I’m an advocate for being open about death, dying and bereavement; a death denying society is not a healthy one in my opinion.  Death is a natural part of life, and grieving is necessary and healthy.  But I’m not sure I want to express my thoughts and feelings in such a public way, or to people that never knew my nephew.

Which brings me here.  To a fairly private, largely anonymous forum where I can express myself to those who ‘get it’, without the platitudes, and devoid of the ‘stalkers’ who are my friends that read but don’t comment..

This is my way & you will have your way.

So this is my tribute to a beautiful child that touched our lives in so many ways.

Always loved & never forgotten 💛

 

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.