Chapter 2: A different kind of loss

If you experience trauma

The grief expert says
Alex speaks about trauma and suicide loss.(3:22)Video transcript

When I heard that she had died, I was shocked. When I heard the word “suicide,” everything just went dark. I stopped seeing or hearing anything.

I was the one who found his body. I began shaking so badly that I sank to the floor. Then I began to feel sick to my stomach and ran out of the room as fast as I could.

Psychological trauma is an event or experience that is highly distressing and stressful, and that overwhelms your ability to cope. Both the nature of the event and the way you experience it influence your response, which may be different than someone else’s. In general, trauma causes your nervous system to respond by kicking your body into fight, flight, or freeze mode. Sometimes your body can become stuck in this mode, accounting for a range of effects after the traumatic event. 

Factors that can contribute to trauma after a suicide might include being present when it happened; finding or handling the person’s body; or witnessing something distressing. Experiencing something unexpected – something you were unprepared for that was beyond your control – can also be traumatic.

If you’ve experienced a trauma, you might feel numb, as though your grief is “on hold.” Alternatively, you might feel overwhelmed by powerful and intense emotions. You might struggle to put words to the many feelings that come up. Like grief, trauma can affect every part of your life: your body, your thinking, your emotions, and your behaviour. You may struggle with everyday tasks and activities as you try to cope with what many have called “a wound.”

The impact of a suicide can continue well past the death itself, past the death arrangements, and for a long time after. If you aren’t getting the support you need, or if your reactions to trauma are interfering with your daily life, it’s important to seek professional help from someone with training in grief and trauma.