Are You Experiencing Grief, Trauma or Both?

In 2007, on a snowy February night, my elder daughter died from the injuries she received in a car crash. Surgeons operated on her for 20 hours, but her injuries were too severe and they were unable to save her life. Blut force trauma was the actual cause of death — three words a parent never wants to hear or say.

The death of a child is bad enough; the death of a child from blunt force trauma is horrific. I wondered about my daughter’s last minutes of life and worried about my granddaughter, a passenger in the car. Why did the accident happen? Years ago, my daughter was involved in another car crash and broke her neck. It happened on my birthday and my husband and I had gone out to dinner with our daughters to celebrate.

We came upon the accident and my husband, a physician, revived his own daughter. This sounds unbelievable, but I can assure you it happened. I directed traffic while my younger daughter ran to a farm house and called for help. Though my daughter’s broken neck healed, she never had full neck mobility, and I think this is what caused her second car crash.

You can understand why I felt traumatized by her death in 2007. Randle Clark, MA and Avril Magel write about trauma in “Unraveling Trauma from Grief,” an article published in the Summer 2013 issue of We Need Not Walk Alone. They say psychological trauma occurrs after exposure to an “extraordinary stressor outside the usual realm of human experience.”

According to the authors, the symptoms of trauma can include extreme anxiety, hyper-vigilance, the startle response, extreme sensitivity to stimuli, avoidance thinking, concentration problems, painful images, and flashbacks. I had some of these symptoms, but not all. Still, I was concerned about myself and read several resources about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Thankfully, I didn’t have PTSD and thankfully I had good coping skills that I put to work.

You may be going through a traumatic loss now. How can you cope? I can tell you how I coped and my steps may help you. First, I identified my grief work and started working on it, work that continues to this day.

Next, I became aware of my emotions and named each one as I felt it. I also made a conscious decision to be a survivor, not a victim. You can make the same decision. I hope you choose to be a survivor because the victm choice sets you up for complicated grief and can prolong grief.

Each day, I set aside some time for meditation. I’m a professional writer and before I started work in the morning I meditated for a few minutes. Sometimes I meditated as I was walking. Writing affirmations also helped me. I started writing them in my mind and wrote so many one-sentence affirmations I started a computer file. This file eventually became a book.

I pushed myself forward on the recovery path by setting goals. My first goal was to set goals. As soon as I completed a goal, I crossed it off my list. As you might expect, my goals changed as the years passed.

Telling my story with written and spoken words has helped me immensely and I think it will help you. If you haven’t done this, I hope you will start writing your story today. You may write daily in a diary, regularly in a journal, or even write a book about your experiences.

Six years have gone by since my daughter died. Yes, I suffered a traumatic loss and I have survived it. Today, I am living a new life. Traumatic loss need not define you or the life you are living. With hard work, determination, and honesty, you can recover and find happiness again.


Harriet Hodgson

More Articles Written by Harriet

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


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  • Jennifer says:

    I lost my mom 11 years & 2 1/2 months ago. Its still not easy. Im typing this in today, cuz it helps me to “keep it together” at work, at parties, etc… Also, itll keep me from getting so angry at the people at parties who like INSIST that everythings supposed to be jolly 24/7, even at a party. fine, and im a VERY BIG ADVOCATE of the POWER of POSITIVE thinking. but, I also hate RULES! ;( nice to finally have an outlet for all this crap that plagues me incessantly. gotta keep it real SOMEWHERE, u know? Thanks everyone! 😉

  • Jennifer says:

    has anyone else experienced ocd as a direct effect of ptsd? just curious, cuz it really seems like they go hand in hand. once i can free myself of the bad memories ONLY playing out in my head, everything else in the healing process should follow at a good speed. 😉 my mom was a chemotherapy guinea pig, it was just TERRIBLE! talk about a NIGHTMARE! I wanna get where i can TALK about it, without it eating me up. 🙂

  • Jennifer says:

    the ONE thing that’s helped me the MOST is the book “The Secret”, by Rhonda Byrne. Its just as simple as expect the BEST (whatever you want), FEEL & IMAGINE it already happened, and KNOW that it IS happening & on it’s way to YOU, and just ENJOY YOUR LIFE & WHAT YOU ALREADY HAVE! Its just that simple! Expect the BEST, and it is SO! 🙂

  • Hi Jennifer,

    Thank you so much for your posts. I appreciate your honesty and have an inkling of what you are going through. Expecting good things — another way of believing in life again — helped me, and it sounds like it has helped you. I hope you have written about your loss because writing reveals your true self and it is an amazing recovery tool. I wish only the best for you and am sending you virtual hugs.


  • Jennifer says:

    I’m having a MUCH better day today. 🙂 Me and my boyfriend are currently putting up a “birthday Christmas tree”.Both of us and a few of our friends have upcoming birthdays in August. I’ve found that it’s of PRIME importance to make fun plans and keep yourself occupied with either doing said plans, preparing for them, or even just looking forward to them, or having picture and/or video memories of said events! I’m experiencing POSITIVE memories of my mom-I have on “Happy Birthday” by Stevie Wonder-one of my mom’s FAVORITE bands EVER! Whenever I hear stevie Wonder, I ALWAYS think of my mom, and I ALWAYS have fond memories of her! 🙂 I’m also less scared to make mistakes currently. That’s progress for you! 🙂

  • It sounds like you’re being proactive and taking care of yourself, Jennifer. Congratulations on your progress!

  • Jennifer says:

    thank you, Harriet! 🙂 hugs to you, too! 🙂