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Trauma and Grief

We often associate the feelings of grief and mourning with the loss of a loved one or with someone whom we feel a deep connection. According to the Mayo Clinic, people experiencing normal grief and bereavement experience periods of sorrow, numbness, guilt and anger. For some, these feelings can be so strong they become debilitating which is referred to as complicated grief.

What about those who have experienced significant trauma such as the loss of a limb, vision, or hearing due to combat or other service-related events? What about those who suffer the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress due to events experienced? Are they entitled to grieve? Absolutely!

As we engage with veterans or first-responders who have experienced some form of traumatic event, we need to understand the grieving stages and where they are in that process. As a matter of fact, it is important that these warriors experience grief or mourning as it becomes an initial step toward healing. Some try to skip this important phase of healing or lock it away, only to surface again at a later time.

Each person follows a slightly different path as they grieve. The order and timing of phases may vary, but the end goal will be the same. All should experience the stages of:

  • Accept the reality of their loss.

  • Allow themselves to experience the pain of the loss.

  • Adjust to the new reality of their situation.

  • Engage in healthy supportive relationships.

The differences of each is quite normal and the timeline varies. However, if the affected individual can’t seem to move beyond these necessary stages, they may be experiencing complicated grief and need more professional assistance. Complicated grief symptoms are things such as:

  • Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss.

  • Focus on little else in life but the events or results of the trauma.

  • Extreme focus on reminders of the loss and an attempt to avoid addressing it.

  • Intense and persistent longing or mental and physical decline.

  • Not accepting of the events or result of loss.

  • Numbness or detachment.

  • Bitterness and overly emotional.

  • Lack of trust in others.

  • Feeling that life has little or no meaning.

  • Inability to find joy in life.

According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s unknown why some experience complicated grief while others do not after experiencing the same or similar events. It could be environment, genetics, personality traits or the body’s chemical makeup. Regardless it can cause significant life complications such as:

  • Depression

  • Suicidal thoughts and behaviors

  • Extreme anxiety including PTSD

  • Sleep disruptions

  • Physical illness, heart disease and high blood pressure

  • Difficulty maintaining relationships

  • Alcoholism and substance abuse

How can we assist others to avoid slipping into complicated grief? Engaging in counseling soon after a traumatic event or loss has been proven to help tremendously. Three forms of assistance are common among all experiencing grief.

Talking: Talking through ones grief and allowing the pain to be felt openly can prevent a person from getting bogged down in sadness. As pain is released, other healing emotions begin, allowing the heart and mind to move forward.

Support: The support of family, friends, social groups and the faith community is critical to working through grief in a constructive way. Organizations like God’s Word For Warriors focus on healing from the spirit outward and thus allowing the participant to share openly in a supportive, safe environment.

Counseling: There are times when specific professional counseling is needed following a loss. This allows the person to acquire healthy coping skills.

Two passages in the book of Psalms comes to mind when contemplating loss; Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” and Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

Jim Humphrey

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