Surviving Traumatic Grief

Thursday, 15 September 2022

A traumatic event can often cause deep-rooted profound feelings. Depending on the nature of the event, those feelings may be fear, confusion, grief, or a combination of emotions.

Defining Trauma

Trauma is defined as “a psychical, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply depressing or disturbing.” The element of trauma can complicate grief in a wide variety of situations; violent or sudden deaths, witnessing death, serious illness or injury, accidental death, experiencing a natural disaster, or going through a divorce, to a name a few. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which type of event you experienced, what matters is your response to it and how deeply it affected you.

Dealing with Traumatic Grief

With traumatic grief, there is a dual challenge, coping with trauma while also coping with grief.

In the beginning, trauma will overshadow grief. In many cases, this means that the shock and disbelief will take hold at first, interfering with the normal grief process. These feelings of shock and disbelief will actually protect you. As Dr. Wolfelt puts it, “If you are in the early days of your grief journey, you are likely to still feel numbed by shock and disbelief. This is a normal and necessary step, as it’s nature’s way of protecting you from the full force of the loss all at once.” Eventually the feelings will subside, as you become ready to deal with reality.

It’s important to be on lookout for indicators that a person is suffering from traumatic grief. Some symptoms include, insomnia or sleep disturbances, anxiety, poor concentration, loss of appetite, feelings of guilt or blame, shattered assumptions about the world, themselves and others, or fear of grief and trauma reactions.

In general, trauma makes grief harder to resolve. In other words, it’ll take longer and require more work, but it can most certainly be done.


Tips for Coping with Traumatic Grief

Take Your Time

The grief journey is different for everyone, and there’s no set timeframe. With the added complication of trauma, it’s best not to rush. Instead, take the time you need to fully explore both your feelings regarding the traumatic event itself and your grief feelings associated with that event.

Be Kind to Yourself

Grief is hard work, and if you are to reconcile yourself to the loss you have suffered, you will need energy for the days, months and possibly years to come. Practicing self-care is not about feeling sorry for yourself, but about caring for yourself with compassion. You have suffered a loss, and you need to be kind to yourself.

Don’t Fear Your Feelings

After a traumatic event, its natural to experience shock and disbelief. However, eventually these two feelings will disappear, and others will take their place. When this happens, don’t be afraid. You may experience fear, anxiety, anger or a strong sense of loss or sadness. Don’t try to ‘be strong’ but instead focus on letting yourself replay the events in your mind as you learn to come to grips with them.

Seek Out Support

You have experienced something difficult, heart-breaking, and traumatic. It’s hard to move forward all alone – you need people. A group of people to offer support and encouragement, to give you hope when the days are dark, and to stick with you no matter what lies ahead. And for many, it’s helpful to speak to a licensed counsellor who can help you navigate through the murky waters of traumatic grief.

The journey ahead is not one you asked for. It will include some long and difficult days. But you and your future are worth it. The past doesn’t define you unless you let it, your present choices can pave a new path into a bright future.

If you’re wanting additional resources and support, please view our Grief Support page, at Australian Heritage Funerals. We’re here to help.