Dealing with Traumatic Loss
Hosts:? Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley
With guest:? Rich Tedeschi
November 16, 2006
G:?Hello.? I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley with my co-host
H:?Dr. Heidi Horsley.
G:?Each week we welcome you to Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal for those who?ve suffered the loss of a child, a sibling, a grandchild, or a friend and as always the message is others have been there before you and made it, and so can you.? You do not walk alone.? If you?re listening to our Thursday live Internet show, please join Heidi and me on the show by calling our toll free number 1-866-472-5792 with questions or comments regarding the losses in your life.? These shows are archived on our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org as well as our blog.? We have a new blog now and you get to it by putting in www.thegriefblog.com.? And you?ll be able now to make comments.? You?ll be able to have questions answered.? We?ve got articles, all sorts of things going on on the blog right, Heidi?
H:?Yes, and we also have pictures and bios of our guests like the guests we have today so you can learn more about who?s on today and what shows are coming up in the future.
G:?And our blog is really starting to take shape.? We are also going to have the archives of all our shows on so you?ll be able to go on to the archives of any show not just the voices but we also have transcripts so you?ll be able to go onto our blog.? You?ll be able to log on to a transcript and you?ll be able to follow along if you want to with the transcript as you listen to the show.? Pretty neat, huh, Heidi?
H:?Yes, great.? I love it.? I love blogs.
G:?Yeah, we?re really excited about our new blog and that brings me to an email we have today, Heidi.? Last week Heidi and I talked about whether or not you view the body of your loved ones and how some people have some regrets later on and we received an email from Kim and she said:
I was very impressed by your comments about being able to view Scott to say good-bye.? I didn?t realize I wasn?t going to have the opportunity to say good-bye to my son, Trevor, until I was sitting at the funeral home and they said there would be no charge for dressing.
Anyway, she said also that it is kind of traumatic at first when you don?t see the body because, as she said, you don?t get into awareness.? It makes you feel like maybe they didn?t really die.? But she said the same thing that Heidi and I said that she has found that over the years, it?s become less important for the last couple of years that she didn?t see the body and I think that?s basically what?s happened.? Don?t you, Heid?
H:?Absolutely and if you want to read more about her comments and see photos of her son and herself, we have put them on the blog.
G:?And her husband and they are blogged.? And there?s also a place where you can make comments so we hope that you will go there and do that.
H:?And I just want to say one thing, mom, that I wanted to say.? I thought about it last week but I didn’t say it.? We?re not here to have competition or any kind of judgment about who sees the body and who doesn?t.? Some people don?t have a body they can see.? It?s not even an option and it?s not an option.? There?s just many rituals and many ways you can say good-bye that don?t include having a body and many things that you can do.
G:?You know, Heid, maybe you?ll want to put some of those things up on the blog after the show.?
H:?Okay, because the families I work with have found many different ways to say good-bye including having a coffin filled with their loved one?s things that they loved and burying that.
G:?And special trees and special sites and special things that you can do.? The last thing I want to talk about is Thanksgiving is coming up.? We hope that you have thought about what you?re going to do and Heidi can you talk about what you think people should do regarding if they have siblings?
H:?One thing that I think is really important as a bereaved sibling and also someone that works with a lot of children and siblings is a lot of times on Thanksgiving we have this ritual where we go around and we say what are we thankful for and it?s often very hard for bereaved families to do this especially for the first few years, but it?s so important.? I?m going to tell you parents out there, it is so so important for you to talk about how thankful you are for your children that are in the room because what happens is if you say there?s nothing to be thankful for this year.? My son or daughter is dead.? There is nothing.? I have no reason to live.? I have no reason to be here.? This is the worst experience of my life.? The message that we have as bereaved siblings is that we?re not worth staying alive for.? We?re not worth being happy for.? We?re not worth anything.? The child that was worth anything is gone.? So you need to say you?re thankful for us.? It helps us a lot.
G:?If it?s too emotional, you might want to write a little Thanksgiving card to your child, to your living children to share.? We know these holidays are difficult and we have a little thing on the blog about holiday tips for bereaved so take a look at that and go on to our blog.? Again, getting onto our blog you can do www.thegriefblog.com and you can still access that blog through our website.? We still have the website up, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and you can email us through the blog or through our website? and please do log in there and look at that today.? Okay, Heid, would you like to introduce our guests today?
H:?Yes, I?d love to.? Our guests today are Dr. Lawrence G. Calhoun and Dr. Rich Tedeschi.? The topic today is Dealing with Traumatic Loss.? Dr. Lawrence G. Calhoun and Dr. Rich Tedeschi are Professors of Psychology at University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and specialists in trauma and bereavement.? They have written numerous articles and books in this area including:? Trauma and Transformation in 1995, Posttraumatic Growth in 1998, Facilitating Posttraumatic Growth in 1999, Helping Bereaved Parents in 2004, and most recently The Handbook of Posttraumatic Growth.? They teach undergraduate and graduate courses in a variety of clinical areas.? Their professional practice has been focused on individuals and couples coping with highly challenging life circumstances.? In addition, Dr. Tedeschi has facilitated parental bereavement groups since 1987.? Welcome to the show, Lawrence and Rich.
R:?Thank you.? This is Rich.? My colleague, Lawrence, will be here shortly to join us.
G:?Oh, Lawrence is a teacher right?
R:?That?s right.
G:?And he?s getting out of his class.
R:?He?s getting out of his class where students are doing presentations.
G:?Oh, oh.? That?s difficult.? Well, Rich, I was very excited when I read ? and Heidi and I both were when we read about your information, the things you had and asked you to be on the show because the idea of posttraumatic growth is really a different thing for us isn?t it, Heidi?
H:?It is and it?s exciting to hear about posttraumatic growth and resilience and positive aspects of grieving because we so often focus on the pathology and the negative parts of grieving and having a loss or a trauma.?
G:?Absolutely, but hang in, you people who are newly bereaved out there with us today because we are going to talk about how tough it is also.? We?re not just going to talk about the growth aspects of it.? So could you tell us how you got into this, Rich?? Into this field?
R:?Well, I was invited by a colleague of mine who works for an agency here in Charlotte called Kindermorn to facilitate bereaved parent groups.? This was back in 1987 as you mentioned, and I didn?t consider myself really equipped to do that.? I said to her, ?I don?t know how much I have to offer.? I don?t really know too much about that.?? I had just started some of my research and what not about that time.? And she says, ?Oh, I think you?d do well with this,? and indeed I?ve been doing it ever since and I found that being a good listener is the key and what I?ve done is simply pass along what parents have told me over the years about their experiences.? I feel like I?m just kind of a conduit to all the stories I?ve heard and all the things that parents have told me about what?s been helpful and unfortunately what has not been helpful in many times, too.
G:?I think there?s a special thing about people who can hear this kind of thing and I think maybe your past childhood experiences ? you were saying that you had a parent die.
R:?Yes, my father died when I was a teenager and it?s unclear to me sometimes how that might be related to my interest in bereavement and growth but certainly my work has made me reflect back on those times and what that was like for me as a teenager going through losing my dad.
G:?So that sounds like another show we ought to do with him, Heidi?
H:?Yeah, that would be a very good one.
G:?Could you talk about posttraumatic growth?
R:?It?s a concept that simply acknowledges with this psychological term that we coined something that has been recognized for the millennia and that is that tragedy and trauma change people certainly and sometimes change people in ways that they can look upon later as beneficial and valued.? It?s not that trauma is a good thing or loss is a good thing but in the aftermath as people try to cope with these things, they discover some things that they might not have recognized before or live in some ways that they might not have considered before their loss.
G:?Now you actually did research where you interviewed people about these aspects, right?? And what did you find?? I think 48 females and 6 males in one of your studies.? Is that right?
R:?Well, we have done a lot of studies.? Our first studies had to do with widows who were generally in their seventies when we interviewed them.? Also another group of people who had suffered physical disabilities in adulthood from paralyzed to blind.? And we?ve done some studies on bereaved parents and many other kids of traumas actually.
G:?So what have you found particularly with the parents as far as their journey goes?
R:?Talking to bereaved parents about growth is a bit of tricky business.? You certainly can?t suggest to anyone that losing their child was a good thing.? That?s absurd, of course, and that?s not what we?re talking about.? We?re talking about after having to cope with this and go through all this, have you recognized any sort of changes that you think are just positive?
G:?Now how far out would people be from a loss before you ask them that?
R:?Well, in our sample, it varied.? Some people were a year out.? Some people were ten years out.? There?s a lot of individual differences in terms of how quickly changes occur in the aftermath of a loss as you know.? People have all different trajectories in that regard.
H:?Right, because I would think you?d really have to work through the pain, the suffering, the grief before you could get to the growth.?
R:?Well, generally, yes.? But surprisingly, there are a few people.? Now this is just a few, but a few people who told us that, for example, right after their child died, they decided that they were going to have to make something positive come out of all this so that their child?s death would not be in vain so that they could take this and somehow change it into some kind of contribution or something useful.? So there are people who might decide such a thing very early on and then there are other people who just kind of stumble into their changes as a result of just trying to survive.
H:?So it was almost like their grief became active rather than passive.
R:?Well, this is something that I think is very common among people who can later report posttraumatic growth.? They have found ways to approach their grief, to use their grief, to make it something that goes beyond their pain and their personal experience.? Something maybe more universal to them.?
H:?Yeah, I was reading in something that you said that people that had been through this were in one study stronger, more competent, more independent, and better able to face other crises.
G:?Heidi, on that note, let?s take a break now and when we get back, we?ll talk more about this topic, Dealing with Traumatic Loss with Lawrence Calhoun ? hopefully, he?ll be with us then ? and Rich Tedeschi.? I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley.? Please stay tuned to hear more or you can join our show by calling 1-866-472-5792.? If you?d like to email us about this or upcoming shows, you can do it through our blog, www.thegriefblog.com, or through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org.? These shows are all archived on our website.? Stay tuned.
R:?Well, Lawrence, unfortunately has contacted me during our break and let me know that he is going to be very late, unfortunately, because he?s in the middle of his work with his students.
G:?All right.? Well, we?ll say hello to him probably in the last segment of the show.? Well, when we went to break, we were talking about this idea of posttraumatic growth meaning that ? well, you tell us what the meaning is.
R:?Well, maybe the best way to talk about it is we have found from people?s reports that there are five different areas of growth that people talk about.? One is something I think you mentioned, Heidi, before the break.? A sense of personal strength.? I?m stronger than I thought I was.? A second is the recognition that there are maybe new opportunities in life or new possibilities that I wouldn?t have recognized before taking life in a new path, new direction.? A third is deeper relationships with others.? A fourth is a greater appreciation of life, the value of life, how precious it is.? And the fifth is spiritual development.
G:?Wow, those are pretty amazing.? I?m just thinking, could you email us a little something about it so we can put it on our blog after the show because I know people are going to want to know those aspects.? They?re very interesting.? So what about those folks who are now saying, I?m only bereaved a year and he?s talking about all this or I?m under a year.? What would you say to them?? I know you?ve worked with bereaved parents.
R:?Well, one thing I?d say right off is to have an expectation of growth in the aftermath of this may not be very helpful and we are certainly not saying in our work that everybody experiences this growth or that it?s important that everybody should.? Just surviving things like this is plenty.? Recovering and getting back so that you can live is plenty.? And sometimes this growth is the kind of unexpected benefit that can come along as well.
G:?Yeah, and one of the things I was thinking about when you were reading those was okay, it?s okay for me to look at the areas, but I could say then to my spouse, ?You should be doing this.? Look at what you could be doing.? You could be growing in these areas.?
R:?Well, again, that?s the thing you find in couples and all bereaved people.? It?s so personal and individual.? Everybody has a different reaction and experience to these things and certainly even within couples, there?s going to be great differences in the grieving process and the perspective that people take.? So you know one spouse can?t expect the other to have a growth experience similar to theirs either so again there has to be respect for the individual differences.
G:?Great.? Talk to us about your earthquake.
R:?Oh, yeah.? That?s kind of a metaphor that we use for posttraumatic growth saying it?s kind of like a psychological earthquake.? Losing someone you love can be like that in terms of there?s a whole structure of your beliefs of how you think life is going to go and what kind of person you are and how the world works.? It really comes tumbling down just like an earthquake shatters buildings.
G:?Yeah.? I thought that was such a good analogy because it?s so so hideous, so tremendous to lose someone that you love.?
R:?Yes, and you have to then rebuild after that.? You have to figure out what?s the new way I?m going to look at the world?? What beliefs do I have now in the aftermath of all this and how can I have a way of seeing things, a way of believing that will withstand future shock?
H:?And who am I without this person in my life?
R:?That?s right.? That?s one of the things.? That may be one of the things you never really considered could happen and it really can challenge your whole sense of self and identity.?
G:?Yeah, and I know you talk about who am I? is one question and then what is my life story?? Heidi and I talk a lot on the show and I think this is part of what our show is about is giving people the opportunity to look at their life story.
R:?We think that?s really important and one of the ways you could really tell with people whether they?ve experienced a trauma is to talk to them about their life story and if they divide it into the before this event and the after this event, you know it?s really traumatic.
H:?Oh, I love that, because I went to a workshop and the speaker there said to us if your life was a book, how many chapters would it look like, and what would it look like?? And I said it would have two chapters?before Scott?s death and after.
R:?There you go.
H:?That?s fascinating.
G:?Yeah, many people tell us about that division that they make.? Could you talk about the commonalities.? You were saying during break that there are actually a lot of commonalities between having a child die, having a spouse die, those kinds of losses.? Could you talk about that?
R:?Well, the whole processing that people have to go through, the rethinking of things is a common aspect into this to all kinds of losses just like I was talking about with the earthquake metaphor a moment ago.? Having to rethink how you proceed, who you are, what kind of relationship you have with this person that has died.? We were talking during the break about the idea of continuing bonds, continuing relationships, and what will that relationship look like?? These are the kinds of questions that people have.
G:?When you say ?that relationship? what you’re saying is that the relationship you continue to have with the deceased person, right?
R:?That?s right.
G:?I think we should make that clear with the audience because there is a continued relationship.
R:?Right.? Like I mentioned, my father died when I was a kid.? I still feel like I have a relationship with him even though it?s decades ago.
H:?I was going to ask you more about that.? While you?ve been talking alone, I was thinking about your own situation.? I was going to ask you do you think that you?re different and have you seen any growth in your own life as a result of losing your father as a teenager?
R:?You know, it?s been so long ago.? It?s hard to get a perspective on that.? This is all in retrospect, I look back and it?s certainly changed me, suddenly my home life became very different.? My father had died.? My mother got quite ill afterwards and my sister had gotten married recently so suddenly I was pretty much by myself.? The family had sort of dissolved in some ways.
H:?So maybe you had to develop some coping mechanisms that you didn?t have initially.
R:?That?s right.? I think I had to take care of myself in a way that I hadn?t done before.
G:?Well, I?m thinking of who am I?? You were an only child in a way then.
G:?And now what is my life story?
H:?And it probably got very parentified if his mother was sick and his father was dead.
R:?I think that changed me in some ways and it was around that time that I was getting ready to go to college and I decided to go to college in psychology and I just have to wonder whether that might have been a little part of that picture, too.
G:?Yeah, it very well could have.? We?re coming up on break again and I?m your host Dr. Gloria Horsley.? Please stay tuned to hear more from Rich Tedeschi and hopefully Lawrence Calhoun will join us.
One of the things I want to say, Heid, is the book that will probably most interest our listeners to get is their Helping Bereaved Parents book.
H:?Oh, okay, it?s called Helping Bereaved Parents.
G:?Yeah.? 2004.? And Rich, I wanted to ask you how folks would get a hold of the book and I assume through amazon.? We?ll have it on our website.?
R:?Yes, they can go through amazon.? It?s published by Brunner-Routledge but you can get it on amazon for sure.
G:?Now do you have a website?
R:?Yes, we have a website.? It?s www.ptgi.uncc.edu.
G:?Wow, you know what, folks?? You can ask us for it and it?s also on our blog so you can get it from there.
H:?And Rich, a quick question for you while I?m thinking about this book.? Will this book help bereaved parents that don?t feel like they have any posttraumatic growth in their lives to learn how to get it?? Does that make sense?
R:?Well, it?s a book that describes the process of how people can be helpful to parents who have lost children.? And it can be an especially useful book for people working in the field of counseling or chaplains or nurses or anybody who has contact with bereaved parents.
H:?So if our parents out there feel like people don?t understand what they?re going through, friends aren?t getting it and they don?t understand and they haven?t been there?? Can they give them this book?? It sounds like this book will help people understand what bereaveds are going through.?
R:?Well, I certainly hope it has that effect.?
H:?Very good.
R:?And again as I?ve said before, I feel like I?m a conduit for what bereaved parents have told me in the past and so a lot of that is in the book.? What parents have said.
G:?Oh, that?s great, so I would suggest that you might want to get that book, Helping Bereaved Parents.
G:?Could you talk about the groups you were running with parents?
R:?Well, they?re basically two kinds of groups.? One is a time-limited group.? We usually do about six weeks.
G:?Now who do you do this through in case there are some people in Charlotte that listen to the show?
R:?Yeah.? This is through Kindermorn and this is a non-profit organization in Charlotte, private non-profit that was started by bereaved parents 26 years ago now.? We use professionals to provide services to children and adults and families who are bereaved and the adults we particularly specialize in our work with bereaved parents.? The groups can be either the short time-limited groups, usually about six weeks where we talk about different topics and bereavement and how to get yourself through the initial phases of this situation, and then we have long-term open-ended support groups.? And these are the things that I?ve done more often and these are just ongoing open groups.? People join, people finish in their own time, and other people join along the way and they just kind of roll along.
G:?So what do you find as some of the biggest pitfalls for parents or the biggest issues for parents who have lost children?? And do you find it different?? I was thinking as far as posttraumatic growth was concerned, I was thinking what about homicide, suicide.? I know with homicide a lot of people are going to court and all those kinds of things so there are a lot of anger issues.? Do you have any thoughts on that?
R:?Two pitfalls come to mind.? One is just what you?re talking about there.? If there are legal issues to be dealt with.? If? there?s problems with some medical malpractice or there?s a homicide or there?s insurance problems or any of those things can kind of hold up the grieving process to some degree, I think, as people are having to concentrate on this nasty stuff in the aftermath of the loss.? And the second thing, I think, is problematic and, you know, as I think about it, probably half our time in our support groups should be devoted to talking about how to get along with other people in the aftermath of this loss, people who may not understand, people who unwittingly say and do things that aren?t very supportive, people who are disappointments, don’t come through with support in the aftermath of a loss.? That?s a pitfall, too.
H:?And we?ve had guests come in that have said you have to teach people how to be good grief support people because people don?t know what to do or what to say and so sometimes we have to teach them what we need.? We have to ask them for what we need sometimes.
R:?That?s right and this is one of the ways in which I?ve seen growth in terms of some of our bereaved parents.? For example, I can recall parents who became advocates for the bereaved through our organization by being speakers or in their workplace by starting to educate people in the workplace about how to treat employees who are bereaved.
G:?I was a psychiatrist nurse consultant to the University of Rochester, the hospital there, and I actually went into my daughter?s ? my daughter was 14 when our son was killed ? and I went into the school and did an education thing for probably three years because I just couldn?t stand the way people were behaving.
R:?Yes, exactly.
G:?And it?s interesting.? People, well, they?re pretty nice.? They?ll let you come in and do some things like that.
H:?Mom, who were you educating at the time?? Were you educating Heather?s friends?
G:?Yeah, the class, basically.? Well, what happened was I went to back-to-school night and the math teacher said Heather wasn?t able to compute.? This was two months later.? And I said well, her brother died, do you know?? And he said, well, we?ve all had family members die.
H:?And so it was the teachers you were talking with.
G:?Both.? I did the teachers and the students.
H:?Very good.
G:?Well, I also wanted to talk about the openness to posttraumatic growth, but we?re going to need to do that when we come back from break.? Heid, you had a question you wanted to talk about when we went to break.? This is our last break, by the way.
H:?I did.? I just wanted to ask Rich what differentiates those that have posttraumatic growth and those who don?t?
R:?This is an issue we?ve been trying to untangle in our research for awhile and there are various factors involved in this but one thing I can certainly highlight is the idea that support from others which allows people an extended time to tell their story and to be listened to is really important in all of this because if you have time to tell the story of this and kind of re-think it, then you?re going to be more likely to come upon some perspectives that are new to you and different and represent some ways you can change, some of the unexpected ways you can change.? So you really need a good listener.
G:?And, by the way, these groups like Compassionate Friends and the groups you help run I think are really important don?t you, Rich?
R:?Oh, absolutely.? In our group we hear time and again this may be the only place I can really say the things that are on my mind and in my heart and that involves sometimes saying things that people don?t feel very good about.? Parents, for example, saying things like my daughter was addicted to drugs and was living a horrible life and I have to say that in some ways it?s a relief that she died because she?s not going through what she was going through, and that?s not something that someone can feel comfortable saying outside a group of bereaved parents.? It might have even been hard to say that among other bereaved parents but these groups are so open to ideas and to feelings that people can get down and talk about things like this.
G:?And really tell their story and talk about who they?re angry with and they can be angry with their spouse or their other children.
R:?or with the child that died.
G:?Absolutely, and angry with the child that died.? And how about siblings Heidi?
H:?I was just going to say that I?m glad you brought that up because I was going to say that in the article that I wrote, which you can get from the website this month called, ?Sibling Bereavement and Continuing Bonds,? I did talk about growth.? We talked about it as psychological growth and there has been about half a dozen studies done many of them by Betty Davies on positive aspects of growth that children have had like Rich said being more mature, valuing life more, those kind of things have been seen also in children so if you want to know more about those studies and what has been done, log on and you can download my article from the website and read more about that.
G:?And I think this is important for parents to know because they worry so much after their children die about the other siblings and they need to know that kids are able to go on and lead productive lives.
H:?Positive things, right, they become more mature, they have a deep appreciation for life, they express affection more towards people.? They have greater purpose.? These are just a few of the things that have been found.
G:?And Rich, you?re the perfect example of how kids do go on and are resilient after the death of a parent.
R:?Well, thank you.? I hope so.
G:?It?s almost time for our show to close.? Could you tell us if you had some advice for parents, what would it be?
R:?Well, I think the most important thing is to be charitable with one?s self.? This is so hard and
G:?Especially if you?re back in that area where you think could I have done this? could I have done that?
R:?Oh, yes.? All those potential regrets and second guesses, you know, it?s understandable that people will think those things, but you have to allow yourself to be a flawed human being and to try to meet other people?s expectation in the midst of your grief is not very helpful.? People expect you to be one way.? They expect you to be who you were before, for example, and you really can?t be.? So being charitable with yourself and being patient with this whole process because it takes longer than people realize.? People have these ideas.? Oh, it?s going to take six months or a year or something like that.? You?re really looking at a whole process of years as you move through this and there?s no one particular way to do it, one particular path.? It?s very confusing and messy.? So being charitable with one?s self and being patient.
G:?And we want you to know that our message is the message of hope today that these things just happen.? When you experience growth, it just happens.? You don?t make it happen.? It?s just part of the process of life.
R:?That?s right.? It is kind of a side benefit that can surprise you and certainly people are just trying to survive their grief.? They don?t usually go into the aftermath of their loss with an idea of growth.? They?re just trying to make it and the fact that we?re talking about growth here can maybe highlight for some of the listeners some things that they might not have considered before and so actually, I do see these changes in myself.? And that can be helpful.
G:?As long as you don?t expect
R:?Yes, that you don?t expect but it can be helpful to see that as some antidote to some of the pain.
G:?Absolutely.? Well, listen, it?s time to close our show now and I want to thank Rich Tedeschi for being on the show and we?re sorry we missed Lawrence.? And it?s been a wonderful show Dealing with Traumatic Loss.? It?s time to close and please stay tuned again next week when our topic will be Thanksgiving Reflections and our guest will be Joy Johnson.? Joy has written or edited more than 150 books on grief and she is co-founder along with her husband, Dr. Mark Johnson of the Centering Corporation at Ted E. Bear Hollow.? Join us for a discussion of traditions and memories and challenges of Thanksgiving Day without that special person.? Rich, I want to thank you so much for being on the show.? It?s been great, and thank you for listening.? I?m your host, Dr. Gloria Horsley and
H:?I?m Dr. Heidi Horsley.? Rich, although your father is gone, he is never forgotten.? Thank you for all the work that you do in helping people along their grief journey.
R:?You?re welcome.


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