Researchers have found that people are greatly affected by the circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one. There are several factors that make a loss traumatic, and the more of them that occur together, the greater the traumatic impact of the loss.
Traumatic grief may occur if the loved one’s death is:
- Sudden and unexpected
- Witnessed by the survivor
Traumatic grief can occur after losses due to homicide, war, car crashes, suicide, and other sudden and violent deaths.
When the death is by suicide, another of layer of shock is heaped upon the already agonizing grief. The bereaved may feel awash in guilt, wondering if there’s something they could have done or said to prevent the death. Stigma is often attached to suicide, which complicates the grieving process. The bereaved may also experience powerful reactions for a long time, including nightmares, flashbacks, and withdrawal from social situations.
Losses are especially difficult when survivors have to deal with the feelings of both grief and trauma. Grief is difficult enough without trauma; trauma symptoms can interfere with processing grief. Grief can become even more overwhelming because there was no chance to say goodbye. When the death is due to violence or other trauma, survivors’ sense of order and safety is shattered. It can be hard to think about your loved one—a necessary part of processing grief—when violent or disturbing images of how he died intrude on your memories.
If traumatic grief affects your life, a mental health provider who is experienced in both grief and trauma can help you to work through symptoms of trauma so that you can process your grief.