The Trauma & Grief Process
Some Normal Reactions to an Abnormal Event
In the weeks and months after a murder, you may experience some reactions to this traumatic event. Considering what has happened to you, these reactions are normal, healthy and understandable.
Although painful, these reactions are a part of the healing process, so acknowledging and talking about them is important.
The following reactions are all common, you may experience many or few of them:
- Fatigue – feeling exhausted or generally tired and unwell.
- Sleep problems such as – insomnia, disturbed sleep or nightmares.
- Underactivity or lethargy – “can’t be bothered”.
- Hyperactivity or feeling unable to stop and relax.
- Health problems such as frequent colds, headaches, general aches and pains, digestive problems.
- Loss of appetite, or conversely comfort eating.
- Exaggerated startle reactions, such as sensitivity to sudden noises or movements.
Thought Pattern Reactions
- Difficulty with concentration.
- Flashbacks to the scene of the murder.
- Difficulty problem-solving.
- Memory disturbance, particularly of short-term memory.
- Absent-mindedness, forgetfulness.
- Difficulty making decisions.
- Inability to attach importance to anything other than the murder.
- Fear, of something specific, or more generally.
- Guilt, self-blame for some aspect of the death, thoughts of “if only”.
- Emotional numbing, inability to feel clear-cut emotions.
- Over-sensitivity, becoming upset or angry more easily than usual.
- Anger, with the offender, police, another family member, self.
- Irritability, ‘snappiness’ or short-tempered.
- Frustration, feeling overwhelmed by practicalities.
- Thoughts of revenge.
- Anxiety, worries about the future.
- Depression, extreme sadness, the feeling of loss.
- Feelings of helplessness, the feeling of loss of control over your life.
There are many things you can do to help alleviate some of the emotional pain associated with this traumatic experience and it is important to talk to a counsellor or other supportive person about this.
There are some general principles that may help you through this difficult time:
- Recognise that you have been through a highly stressful experience and give yourself permission to feel sad, angry or whatever you feel. Denying these feelings may delay the recovery process. Remember – you have lost a loved one in terrible circumstances, you have every right to feel rotten.
- Allow others to help out in practical or supportive ways. Most people will want to help but may not know what to do or say. Well-meaning people may offer unhelpful or insensitive advice, try to understand they want to help but may need some pointing in the right direction.
- Some people block out thoughts of the murder or avoid reminders of it. Others need to talk about it, perhaps many times over. Neither reaction is “wrong”. Often denial is a response that protects you in the short term when you are unable to deal with too many things at once. Others in our group have found that, when you are ready to think and talk about things, it can help you come to terms with the experience gradually and begin to heal. Talking to someone not directly involved, such as a counsellor, can be helpful.
- Following trauma, we are more vulnerable to accidents and illness as our concentration
and immune system are impaired. It is important to take extra care when driving or doing other
hazardous activities Try to have adequate sleep and exercise, physical activity is a good stress
reliever. Try to eat well, but if you can’t face eating much ensure you drink lots
of non-alcoholic fluids and try taking multi-vitamin/mineral supplements. Avoid excessive use of stimulants
such as cigarettes, coffee and sugar, as these will only add to emotional arousal. Conversely, try to avoid
depressants such as alcohol or sleeping tablets, as these are harmful to the body and of course, do
not help the grieving process. However, seek medical advice when taking medication.
- The most important thing to remember is that what you are feeling now is absolutely normal – you are not going crazy.
If you are worried about your reactions or feelings, please call us on 02 8274 8900 or toll free 1800 191 777 any time of day or night.
Understanding Your Reactions
Disbelief and Shock
When a friend or relative is murdered, you can experience a number of reactions. Everyone is different of course, and these reactions vary considerably depending on how close a friend you were, how often you saw
them and numerous other factors.
Most people however do experience some similar reactions. Firstly, there is strong sense of disbelief. This can’t be true. There must be some sort of mistake. The truth is so bad that it seems almost unbelievable.
A sense of shock sometimes follows. You think that you should feel something but nothing seems to be happening. It’s almost like your feelings have shut down. This shock can come and go and the length of time varies from person to person.
Sorrow and Grief
After you recover from the initial shock, a deep sense of sadness often sets in. It engulfs you like a fog and it is hard to see through the pain. At this time you may get very teary and cry often. It is very important to remember that tears are very healing, they actually contain chemicals which when released and allowed to flow actually reduce the stress and pain. It is no wonder that people often say they feel better after a good cry.
At this time you may also move between feeling numb, getting very upset and extremely angry.
The only way known to release the pain is to talk about what has happened and your experience of the loss and the subsequent pain. There is very little benefit in maintaining a “stiff upper lip”. A wise person once said “Don’t you think they are worth every tear you shed?”
Anger and Vengeance
Anger is a very understandable reaction when your friend or relative has been brutally murdered. A deep longing for justice can become your total focus. You may have a deep sense of anger towards the people who have committed such an awful act.
It is very important to release this anger appropriately. Don’t bottle the anger inside. This can cause long term health problems and jeopardise relationships. When the anger is suppressed it can resurface in another way at another time. It could emerge during a conversation with a partner or friend. This can be very damaging to a relationship.
Find someone to talk with about your anger. Regular vigorous exercise may help. This addresses the build up of adrenalin. Do this at least three times a week. This will reduce the tension levels and will help you relax.
The process can seem long and lonely, so many people find someone whom they can confide in, for example, a relative or friend. Doctors or the local community health centre may be able to help in this way, or refer bereaved people to a specialist grief counsellor. Some people find the experience of another person who has been through a similar situation invaluable, and so contact a support group
Some useful strategies
- Live a day at time.
- Do something special for yourself every day.
- Do not make any major decisions, such as selling the house or booking a long expensive holiday in the first year if possible.
- Talk to a caring friend, religious priest or clergymen or counsellor.
- Join a support group.
- Read books on grief.
- Write letters to the person you have lost to express your feelings or as a way of saying goodbye.
You can then keep these in a safe place, or bury them under a bush you plant in their memory, or scatter the pieces in a significant place.
- Keep a journal as a record of your own journey of grief.
- Create a memorial for the person who died: plant a tree, create a memory book or photo album. Children often like to collect items for a memento box.
- Commemorate the person you lost on special days, such as birthdays, Christmas, Father’s Day. Light a candle, drink their favourite bottle of wine, talk about them. Then go and do something special for yourselves – you deserve it! Plan these activities with the rest of the family.
Self care is important to prevent further stress to your body. The following have been found to be helpful in coping with grief:
- A regular daily routine – have set times for getting up, meals and going to bed.
- A balanced diet including breads and cereals; meat, fish and dairy products; fruit and vegetables.
- Avoid too much coffee and tea to help you sleep at night, try herbal teas.
- Outdoor activities, such as going for a walk or gardening, take you away from the stress and refresh you mentally.
- Exercise, such as swimming, walking and team games, will produce chemicals called endorphins in the body, which help to counteract depression and make you feel good. The exercise does not need to be strenuous. If you have doubts about your fitness consult your doctor.
- Relaxation: meditation, massage, music.
- A relaxing pre-sleep routine: winding down before bed and not watching television.
- Avoid seeking relief through alcohol, smoking, medication and other drugs.
- Consulting the doctor about physical symptoms, for a blood pressure check, for practical help, for medical certificates, and for help with the grief.
- Some people find it helpful to spend fifteen to twenty minutes alone every day. They put on the answering machine so they won’t be disturbed. This time acts as a safety valve. In it they deal with any emotions they have stored up during the day.
- There are different ways of grieving at these times: thinking, crying, praying, meditating, writing or drawing, talking to the dog!
- Some people like to keep a diary. They write down their feelings and the memories of their loved one. They can then see how their grief changes over a period of weeks and months. If the diary is kept in a safe place the written memories become precious in the future. Alternatively some people feel more comfortable with pictures or diagrams.