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Guest Post – Getting over the trauma of multiple deaths

My colleague, Linda Ligenza–a social worker and life coach who is also an expert on trauma–recently penned a guest post here entitled, Trauma, Trust and Friendship. She offered some self-help tips for coping with traumatic experiences, particularly as they affect friendships.

Since that post, a visitor to the blog wrote me asking for more information. Her letter is posted below and Linda was kind enough to respond. The poster had experienced three deaths of close family members within a short period of time and, understandably, was feeling very overwhelmed by the losses.

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

I am thankful I have found your blog and read through it daily. I became particularly interested in the post about trauma and how our bodies handle/process it. My question is how do you define trauma?

The reason I am asking is I truly feel that the last three years of my life has been one traumatic event after another and has changed me as a person. I lost my dad, sister and mom over that time, each one a year apart. I have one step-brother left and our relationship is  shallow.

It has changed my core being, making me feel more lonely and unable to make and keep friends. To top it all off, the one close friend I  did have (and who very supportive of me through these deaths) moved away two weeks ago–yet another loss in my life. There are days I feel that I am being punished and I have no idea why.

On a very positive note, I have a great marriage to a wonderfully supportive husband and two beautiful, healthy and well-adjusted daughters but they are all I have now. I hope you can find a moment to provide feedback.

Sincerely, Judy

LINDA’S ANSWER

Dear Judy,

Your consecutive losses and the persistent feelings and perceptions you are experiencing over these painful losses are suggestive of trauma. It is pretty unusual to experience three losses of close family members within such a short time span. My heart goes out to you.

What is most important is how you process these experiences. Here are some of my thoughts and advice that may be helpful:

  • It is important to remind yourself that you are experiencing normal reactions to abnormal events. Sometimes, after such experiences, people feel like they are “going crazy” because they feel distracted, numb, or have bursts of emotions such as sadness, guilt, anger or agitation; others have physical reactions, such as headaches or stomach problems. These are all common reactions to serious loss and trauma.
  • Grieve in the way that feels comfortable for you. It may be necessary to process the loss of each person separately as you had different relationships with each. How we do this is quite individual but getting in touch with the emotions connected to each loss may be helpful and healing.
  • Memorialize each person you lost or all of them in some way. Finding a way to pay tribute perhaps through a ritual can be helpful and healing. Moving towards an understanding of the role each played in your life, and having an appreciation for how they contributed to who you are may help you to recognize that you hold within you a piece of each of them that doesn’t go away.
  • Support is extremely important – talking about your losses, the pain, the gap you feel, the happy memories, can be a very healing process. Some people find this through pastoral counseling or through psychotherapy. This should not be just a one time session but requires multiple sessions to truly process the complicated grief you are experiencing.
  • Volunteer to help others. Studies confirm that helping others who are less fortunate promotes healing and recovery from loss and trauma.

You need to maintain hope that you will recover from these unusual and traumatic losses. Allow yourself the time and space to process each and consider following through with some of the other suggestions above. With time, you will replace the pain with peace, and happy thoughts and memories. I suspect that this will also enable you to put your friend’s move in better perspective and, perhaps, to find ways to maintain the connection across the miles. She sounds like a good friend.

Best wishes, Linda


Linda Ligenza, ACSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and life coach in Charleston, South Carolina. She also consults with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare on trauma, resiliency and trauma-informed care.

 

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Category: Losing friends

Comments (9)

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  1. Lynda says:

    I’m glad I found this site as I have had 3 losses over a 2 year period. In September 2014 my Gran (& last surviving Grandparent) died. Then in April this year my toxic Mother suddenly & unexpectedly died (we never really got on). At the end of August this year my Dad (who had Colon Cancer) died. My older Brother & I were both with Dad when he passed away. I got on great with Gran, was in pure hell (daily) due to Mum & mostly got on with Dad. My older Brother & I email/occasionally phone each other, but were not proper close. It’s Dad’s funeral tomorrow.

    Due to poor health/disabilities I was always ‘stuck’ living with parents until Dad was moved into Hospice Care (May 2016), I’m 37. Due to inheritance from Mum’s estate, I now have my own little flat (moved in July 2016). My older Brother moved out of the family home over 20 years ago, so he didn’t see all that I did. Times where due to his Cancer Dad would be distressed & on the loo, or on bathroom floor (pretty much starkers) while we waited few hours for Ambulance to show up. I don’t really know how to ‘get my head around it all’. I have many conflictive thoughts over the 2 year period.

  2. Just says:

    hi….in the space of 5 weeks i have lost my father . aunt .brother and dog of 12 years. …all suddenly and totally unexpected. ….all i saw recently and on a high note. …i see myself lucky in that respect. …i have good support etc…i just want to know if people would suggest that antidepressants are a necessity or is experiencing it all as is the best option. i find myself in this terrible terrible time and the grief is constant and unbearable. ..but i want to honor them all.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Judy: Just wanted to make a comment on your losses and just wanted to tell you that you’re not alone. Recently, 10 days before Christmas I lost my only Son. He was 35, didn’t drink, smoke, take drugs and marathon walked everyday for 3 hours for good health. His death certificate said cause of death was Pulmonary Embolism caused by DVT. Beside my husband and some long distant cousins he was my last blood relative. Now there’s no heirs and no next of kin to mention. I came to know that the meaning of life is death. That’s what we all live for eventually, no matter what our walk of life might be. However, just so you know my dear Judy, you are not alone in your feelings. Lots of Hugs, Bernadette

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hello, and I am very sorry for your losing both parents and a husband in such a short time. I have a friend who has had two losses (husband and sister) in a two month period and she is quite at sea. The grief support group sounds promising. May I ask why you didn’t go to your own church’s group? I guess I’m asking if a certain type of church is perhaps more effective with these types of groups. Take care.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I had a similar year, losing both parents and my husband. One thing that helped me through it was a grief support group at a local church (not mine). Talking things through and having kindred spirits was extremely comforting. No one knows your pain as well as someone else who has experienced loss.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Judy, I am sorry for your losses; i feel for you. I too have struggled through a similar scenario. I lost my father and an aunt whom I was very close to in a plane crash. I had never lost anyone close to me before. I had no idea how much the grief overwhelmed me and my life seemed to spiral out of control for the next 2 years after the crash(boyfriend breakups; I moved 5 times in the first year; getting blacked-out drunk). It took me a while to figure out what was happening. Today, I am in a better place. I still have to wake up each morning and realize “yes its true”-they are gone! But I have come to a peaceful time in my life because that is where they would want me to be. I don’t just have photographs and memories of them; I have the lessons they have taught me, their strength, and their love. As I come to crossroads in my life I always ask myself “what would they have done”. Hang in there and do seek peace. Lean on your husband for support and look to your children for joy.

  7. fireflies says:

    I can’t tell you how sorry I am for all your losses. Linda and the previous poster both have wonderful suggestions. I think they’re great suggestions for anyone who has suffered a loss. What you’re going through is particularly difficult because of the 3 great losses in such a short time. I’m so glad you’re reaching out and looking for support and that you have your husband, kids, and close friend. Good luck in your recovery process and take care of yourself.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Judy, I am so sorry for your losses. I’m glad to hear you have a loving husband and children, and a good friend (though she’s far away). I am not an expert, so please take my suggestion as well-intentioned and from a lay person who has been through a lot of losses myself (though it has been many years). I found that going to a therapist for one-on-one (i.e., not “bereavement group”) sessions specifically to talk about my grief helped get me through some emotionally unstable times in the aftermath of losing several family members. She didn’t give me a magic bullet. She just talked to me, let me talk. It was like going to a professionally trained aunt or big sister. She filled a huge need for me to feel completely free to talk about the losses and my sadness, without feeling like I was imposing on someone or making someone uncomfortable. That’s what helped me, so I wanted to pass it on to you in case it might help you. My deepest sympathy to you, and best of luck to you in getting through this sad time.

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