Once we realize life will never be the same due to a sudden and violent death, our world has changed forever. Unexpected death throws us into a state of trauma. We didn’t see it coming. We never got to say goodbye. We had no way to prepare ourselves for the loss. Life as we know it may not feel safe. We may find ourselves questioning everything. We may feel shattered to our core, numb, and in shock.
The depths of our grief may make us feel isolated, alone and misunderstood. Sometimes it seems as if no one really understands us. It is a trauma that is never wished on anyone, yet we are thrown into this extreme challenge of trying to live life with the reality of knowing someone who has died suddenly and violently. How is this possible?
It is common that we experience shock, distress, confusion, terror, anger, rage, deep sadness, numbness, chaos, and at times even guilt. We may not know what to do next. We may want to withdraw from society, friends and family. We may find ourselves searching our hearts for answers yet feeling there are no answers. We are suddenly faced with looking at our own mortality and those who are close to us. This is all to be expected.
The journey of loss in the specific case of sudden and violent death is unimaginable. There may be no words to describe how we are feeling. Yet the feelings may be bringing up emotions that are in our face, and difficult to experience and deal with. As survivors, overwhelmed may be the most obvious experience in the beginning of the loss. What do we do? How do we handle our grief and the fact that our loved one died through a violent act? What do we say to others, especially other family members? If there are children involved, how do we best help them through this tragedy?
Because there is no warning, we are faced with the difficulty of knowing there is no chance to say goodbye. There is no opportunity to process the thought of such a great loss. There is no preparation but a trauma we are thrust into without our consent.
Now what? How do we cope?
Our grief will change over time. The shock happens to protect our psyche from the enormity of the death and all of its implications. Once this shock begins to wear off, a new and unfamiliar level of grief takes over. We move through various stages whether we want to or not. We will over time, experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Because of the violence involved, this loss may have us grieving in ways unexpected. It is important to get support during our grieving.
One choice of ours is to withdraw from the world for the rest of our lives, however becoming dysfunctional will severely limit our being. We can choose to be a functional being, however this is difficult to go at alone. We can certainly help each other with and through this process. We are social beings who thrive with love, compassion and understanding.
A road map for healthy healing:
- Find trusted individuals who will serve as compassionate, heart felt sympathetic, empathetic listeners and start talking.
- Consult heartfelt professionals who have the knowledge to assist us as we begin to cope with this tragedy; psychotherapist, grief counselor, etc.
- Avoid and/or eliminate any urges to be destructive such as drugs, alcohol, or risky behaviors. These are not coping mechanisms and will compound the grief process and add additional problems to overcome.
- Continue to participate in daily routines as much as possible.
- Discover a healthy outlet for your energy; going to the gym, hiking in nature, hobby, sport, support group, or other social activities.
- Eat healthy foods on a regular schedule and drink plenty of water.
Here are some expected reactions as we cope with our tragedy/loss:
- The need to ask “why” or “how did this happen?”
- Could I have somehow prevented this from happening?
- Why didn’t I see this coming? Did I miss something? What if I……
- We believe they will walk through the door at any time, the phone will ring and it will be them.
- We dream about our deceased loved one.
- The need to talk about our deceased loved one and the tragedy over and over.
- Feeling like we are not ourselves and “don’t feel normal” because there is nothing normal about losing someone to a violent act.
- We have difficulty concentrating, thinking clearly, or being able to do tasks that once seemed effortless.
- We no longer want to engage in “the real world”.
- We feel no one understands us (and that may be true; although we may find comfort and similarities with other survivors who have lost someone to a violent death).
- We feel unable to function as we once did and we have no way to bring ourselves to do so.
- We experience Post Traumatic Stress.
- We re-play the details of the death and/or the imagined scenario in our mind over and over.
- We attempt to avoid thinking about the death and the person.
- We attempt to distract ourselves from the feelings and intense emotions we are experiencing.
Remember, there is no one right way to grieve. There is no need for us to judge ourselves through this unknown field of darkness. This is often a journey through the dark night of the soul. Facing our deepest, darkest internal self, our loss will transform us in ways we never imagined. Most importantly, we will find ourselves reframing our current existence without our deceased loved one. While creating our new life, we will choose to continue living life all the while honoring the life of our loved one. Some may feel like giving up, wishing they were no longer in body, feeling dejected, overwhelmed and alone. Believing at some point that they too should not be alive.
Yet the real courage lies in reframing our new life with purpose and meaning in spite of our loss. For each of us it remains a unique experience. Yet we have many commonalities. We can share our struggle and our heartbreak and support each other through our unspeakable pain.
Ideally we want to confide in a heartfelt grief professional along with a good, trusted friend. We want someone to listen to us and acknowledge our grief. We want to know that we can someday make sense of what has occurred.
It is also healthy to create a positive channel for our grief. Everyone is different when it comes to grieving and mourning. Grieving is the deep feelings we have for our loss. Mourning is the act of grieving expressed outwardly. An example of mourning might be to create a ritual involving remembrance of our loved one. Perhaps we set a place at the table for them for a specific time frame. Maybe we create an altar where we place items of meaning between us and them including their picture. Again we might choose to write stories about them and share them on special days like holidays or their birthday. If children are involved, we may have them share a story or picture they create with the rest of the deceased friends and family. We may choose to create a special event in their honor; butterfly release, sporting event or perhaps a social event with a theme of something they really enjoyed doing. Any and all of these things can be very helpful in moving through our grief as well as sharing our loved one with others ensuring they will not be forgotten.
Attending a support group specifically for survivors of those who died a sudden or violent death can also be very helpful. There are many such groups available. We have resources that include our local hospices (which often offer free bereavement services) and/ or places of worship. Sometimes it takes trying out a few groups to discover which one is right for us.
Personal Note: My grandmother and I cherished a close relationship all my life. My grandmother’s unexpected brutal murder was recorded as the worst murder in the history of Larkspur, California.
Some Online Resources are:
Laurrana Leigon D.Div. C.Cht.
Richard Leigon D. Div. C.Cht.