If everyone around you does not understand why you can’t get past the past, perhaps it is because you are grieving a very complex or traumatic death. In the face of murder, suicide or untimely trauma, it feels nearly impossible to stop the intrusive thoughts. They play through your mind like a tape loop in a seemingly never-ending guilt-and-shame-provoking dialogue.
“If I was there, this wouldn’t have happened.”
“What if I just made it a point to call or care more often?”
“Why didn’t I have an intervention for the drug use?”
“I feel so guilty. This is all my fault.”
“How could I let this happen?”
These are all things people with survivor guilt believe. This is particularly true of those who have lost a child. It is exacerbated when it is a homicide, suicide or accidental death. The loss of a child is the number one stressor that can be a predictor to developing a disorder, either mental or physical, or both.
The base from which my father became a psychiatrist was perhaps because his brother committed suicide by leaving on the gas and barricading himself inside the bathroom. He called the church and told the pastor of his intentions. The pastor chose not to tell the family, preached his sermon and my father and his parents went home to an unspeakable tragedy. My father’s memories and pain never went away in his 80 years of living. This happened when my father was about 28 years old and his brother was 26. He never stopped crying about it in private moments.
I learned from this because I worked in his office. Closure may not be possible but finding purpose after you push past the pain is possible and may be the best way to emerge from the agony of the loss.
As a psychiatrist, my father was able to help many people. He rarely told anyone of his intense losses or abandonments. It wasn’t part of the job. I trailed long behind him and became a therapist. Years into my practice, my brother died at the early age of 61. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery for many factors. I can tell you that it made me even more compassionate to those dealing with a death in the family. I took some time off, got help and got back on to my purpose to help others with renewed resilience.
Understanding loss in the face of homicide, suicide and tragedy may be too much for “normal” friends or family to bear. You may notice they begin to avoid you. It is not because of you, but most people are not equipped for tragedy of this kind. They may secretly fear your loss as possible in their lives. Whatever the reason, you have to talk with someone, somewhere who will listen nonjudgmentally and caringly. “Just get over it” is probably the most painful things my clients hear from others that they wish could understand why they are stuck in persistent agony. Carl Jung, a father of psychiatry, said, “What we resist, persists.”
It may be time for a professional intervention for yourself if you suffer from prolonged grief and guilt responses. Paul Young’s book “The Shack” was written about just this kind of person whose daughter was lost to a homicide. The film was gut-wrenching but heart opening. You may have to go within to get this grief out, but don’t go it alone.
Your friends and family may not want to hear what is hurting you, but you may not be able to get consuming and/or racing thoughts out of your head. It may be more than Post Trauma responses or PTSD. It may be your brain has been damaged by the event(s). There is hope, but bereavement in tragic and traumatic cases is far more than just going to a funeral and putting roses on a casket.
In the DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5 ed.) a new bereavement disorder was proposed but still is not classified or diagnosable.
Persistent Complex Bereavement Disorder is up for study and debate but if you have long term major depressive symptoms and have lost interest in living your own life well because you have lost someone you love, then it may be time for intervention.
Don’t wait or hesitate to get help. Grief groups and individual counseling can help. Seek out those of similar circumstances. When the unthinkable happens, get help to get your thinking back into a better frame of mind.
You may feel like you want to “insulate” yourself and withdraw from others, but in truth you are isolating. Remember that we punish people with solitary confinement and though you think you might feel better staying away from others, it is a faulty trauma response to keep you subconsciously detached to feel safe.
Reach out before you go too far inward. There is help and this site is dedicated to helping you find it. You are not alone.
You cannot make sense of the senseless but many can find purpose in the pain. Though my father’s pain was always simmering somewhere in his heart and mind, he went through his day as a healing professional with extra care who suffered losses that were untimely, tragic or just plain horrifying. It is in helping others, we can help ourselves and that cycle of giving and receiving and seeing into the soul of a fellow sufferer that we can reach deep into other’s psyche and heal with grace and compassion.