As soon as I heard a Malaysian Airlines flight 370 had been shot down, I thought of the survivors. I have some understanding of traumatic death because our daughter, the mother of our twin grandchildren, suddenly died in a car crash. The cause of death was “blunt force trauma,” three words I didn’t want to read or say.
Two days later, my father-in-law died. Eight weeks after that, my brother and only sibling died. In the fall, our grandchildren’s father suddenly died in another car crash. The scenario was unbelievable. Grief is hard enough to process, without adding trauma to the mix.
One problem with traumatic death is that there is no time to prepare for it. Bam! Your loved one is gone forever, you don’t know what to do, and you’re in shock. Traumatic loss generates a variety of feelings, among them guilt and blame. Some grief experts think rage comes with traumatic loss, but thankfully, I never experienced this.
In a website article, “Trauma, Loss and Traumatic Grief,” The International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies says survivors of traumatic death have to come to terms with death, and the manner of death. “It is common for survivors to agonize about what their loved ones experienced during their final moments of life,” the article explains.
How can the survivors of the Malaysian Airlines tragedy act cope with loss? I can only share what worked for me.
• Start writing and keep at it. Expressing feelings with words is cathartic.. Because I’m a writer, I decided to write to recover, and the focus of my work shifted from health/wellness to grief healing.
• Talk with a relative, friend, or member of the clergy. We did all three. Family members – my brother-in law, sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, and distant cousins – became our support system. Close friends also helped me get through the darkness of grief.
• Practice self-care. I ate a balanced diet, tried to get enough sleep, had a physical exam, and walked for better health. My husband and I were appointed as our grandchildren’s guardians and having them in the house boosted our spirits.
• Avoid the media. Kirsti A. Dyer, MD, MS, FT, author of “Special Challenges for Survivors of Sudden or Traumatic Death,” says survivors deal with grief and “with intrusion into their personal tragedy by the media.” My husband and I decided not to respond to a media inquiry and we’re glad we made this decision.
• Turn off television news. Apparently video of our daughter’s crash was on the evening news. Thankfully, a friend called and told us not to watch the later news, a gift of caring.
• Watch for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I didn’t develop this, but read articles about it, and watched for symptoms. However, I did develop situational depression, recognized it for what it was, and knew it would fade in time.
• Cry, cry, cry. My husband and I sat on the couch and sobbed for weeks. We also made a pact. We could cry anywhere, anytime, for as long as necessary. This decision helped to release our emotions and relieve our stress.
Traumatic loss is one of the worst experiences of life. Focusing on the love I had for deceased family members, and still have today, helped me and could help Malaysian Airlines survivors. We’ve come to realize that love is stronger than death, and love keeps us going.