Coping With Sudden and Traumatic Loss

A sudden and traumatic death shatters your world. The changes may be readily apparent or may take months, or even years, to emerge. In 2007, my elder daughter (mother of my twin grandchildren) and father-in-law died on the same weekend. I was in such shock I could hardly think. Yet there were burial arrangements to make and memorial services to plan.

I knew I had to do my grief work and did not shirk it. This work paid off and I was starting to feel better when my brother died eight weeks later. Several months later the twin’s father studied in another car crash. The fourth death in the family shook my sense of safety. What would happen next?

According to the Journey of Hearts website, “The grief response following sudden loss is often intensified since there is little to no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say good-bye, finish unfinished business or prepare for bereavement.” The survivor — you and me — has a sense of vulnerability, the website continues, because our safe world “no longer exists.”

Some days, I wondered if I would survive. I did not have time to dwell on my worries, however, because I was raising my grandchildren. Thankfully, I have good coping skills. Though my grandchildren are brilliant and have some coping skills, tragedy hit at a vulnerable time of life. My granddaughter worries about being alone in the house, an understandable feeling after a house up the street was just robbed.

The US National Mental Health Information Center, in a website article, “Care Tips for Survivors of a Traumatic Event,” says a fear of crowds, strangers and being alone is a natural response to sudden and traumatic loss.

And the US Department of Health and Human Services describes the impact of traumatic loss in “Tips for Survivors of a Traumatic Event: Managing Your Stress.” The article lists 11 signs of stress, including excessive worry. Stress affects your body in many ways and you may have stomach aches, diarrhea, headaches, changes in appetite, and sweats or chills. You may feel anxious all the time, or guilty, or depressed, or overwhelmed.

How can you cope with the stress of sudden and traumatic loss?

1. Eat a healthy, balanced died.
2. Avoid excessive caffeine or alcohol.
3. Try to get enough sleep.
4. Get regular exercise. (I walk at a local mall.)
5. Share your feelings with people you trust.
6. Learn about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and watch for symptoms of it.
7. Call “time out” and have some fun.
8. Renew your spirit by meditating, praying, or helping others.

These tips helped me and I added one more — writing about my multiple losses. Writing has helped me the most. I also think we also need to keep telling ourselves we are normal. As the US Department of Health and Human Services explains, “Know that feeling stressed, depressed, guilty, or angry is common after a traumatic event.” Our sense of safety is altered, but we still have the same strengths and talents, and can use them to help ourselves.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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