What is Traumatic Loss?

In 2007, the traumatic loss of my daughter became imprinted in my mind forever. A traumatic loss is sudden, unexpected, and happens without warning. The loss of Helen was more than traumatic; it was violent.

I pictured the crashed car in my mind and Helen’s crushed, bleeding body. The images were torturous. Her death was nature’s mistake, an out-of-turn death.

The car crash happened on a snowy February night. Helen and her daughter, one of her twins, were on their way home from a Girl Scout meeting several towns away. It was snowing, and the country road she was driving on connected to the highway at an angle. Helen turned onto the highway, didn’t see the oncoming car, and was hit broadside.

Haunting Image of Daughter’s Crash

The Mayo One helicopter came to her rescue, and my granddaughter went to the hospital by ambulance. A helicopter crew member called me. “Your daughter has been in a car crash,” she said. “Her injuries are really bad, and your granddaughter probably has a concussion.”

Oh my God. The news sparked unease and fear. Earlier that evening when John and I were eating dinner, I had suddenly felt so nauseated that I didn’t finish my food. This happened around six thirty in the evening. Was this the time of the crash? Do mothers have the same communication as twins? Had Helen thought of me on impact?

I never learned the time of the accident or the answers to these questions, and I had to make peace with that. Many of life’s questions have no answers. A television news crew showed up at the crash site. The footage they took appeared on the early news. A friend called to warn me. “Don’t watch the news tonight,” she urged. “It shows your daughter’s crash, and you don’t need to see that.”

Hopes Dashed for Miracle

I thanked her for calling and followed her advice. I didn’t need to store these images in my conscious or subconscious mind. Surgeons operated on Helen for twenty hours, but her injuries were so extensive the doctors couldn’t save her life. “If we fix one thing, we’ll have to fix another,” the lead surgeon explained.

I could tell by his facial expression and body language that he was truly sorry to share this news. He said he tested our daughter, and she was brain-dead. Our hopes for a miracle were dashed.

Helen was an organ donor. A representative from an organ donation organization came to the hospital. I wouldn’t be able to do this woman’s job, and I admired her courage. However, I wasn’t pleased with her clothes. She wore a low-cut dress that was so out of place I wondered if she had come from a cocktail party. John and I sat down at a table with her to sign legal documents. Every time she leaned over, I saw her breasts and said a mental oops. The “oops” happened several times. What an odd experience.

John’s brother and his wife came to the ER to support us, and they saw the woman’s breasts. I felt birth and death were sacred experiences. The woman’s revealing dress desecrated Helen’s death. When family members talk about this experience, we refer to the woman as Mrs. Cleavage. She will always be Mrs. Cleavage to us.

Daughter’s Organs Saved Lives

John and my surviving daughter went to the police impound lot to see the damaged car. There was a lot of blood in the car, enough to fill an empty coffee cup. When John was an Air Force flight surgeon, he investigated several crashes and was used to doing this. John didn’t say much about Helen’s crash and said nothing about her car.

Helen’s organs saved three lives and restored another person’s sight. The organization sent remembrance medallions to the twins and an invitation to the yearly banquet. The twins didn’t want medallions or a fancy dinner; they wanted their mother.

The organization continued to send us invitations. Receiving them was so painful, so I asked for our names to be removed from the mailing list. This decision sounded harsh, even to me, but I couldn’t handle any more invitations.

The traumatic loss of Helen was difficult to process. First, there was debilitating shock and disbelief. When I learned more details about the crash, Helen’s death was even more traumatic. When she was barely conscious, apparently Helen had patted her daughter on the knee to comfort her, a maternal thing to do.

Excerpted from Winning: A Story of Grief and Renewal: Hodgson MA, Harriet: 9781608082919: Amazon.com: Books.

Visit Harriet’s website: www.harriethodgson.net.

Read more by Harriet on Open to Hope: https://www.opentohope.com/get-a-grief-buddy/

Harriet Hodgson

Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 43 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 42 books, including 10 grief resources. She is Assistant Editor of the Open to Hope website, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Alliance of Independent Authors, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. She is well acquainted with grief. In 2007 four 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 healing. She has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, 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 The Compassionate Friends national conference, Bereaved Parents of the USA national conference, and Zoom grief conferences. Her 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 grandmother, great grandmother, author, and speaker please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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