Chapter 2: When grief and trauma come together


I've been there
Susan explains how for her, grief could not be deferred.(3:22)Video transcript

Seeing my family grieve was torturous for me. Every time that I saw someone cry, the flames of self-blame and shame were stoked. I felt self-hatred and disconnection, including from myself.

My brother's death marked my life in a pretty definite way. I will never get over it, but I have learned to live with it.

Grief and trauma can come together in a number of different situations. Sometimes the way someone has died is violent or intensely disturbing; other times, circumstances or events surrounding the death may create the potential for trauma.

This chapter describes some situations that have the possibility to become traumatic experiences. After a death, one person’s grief may include a trauma response, while another person’s may not. We emphasize that grief and trauma responses, even when they include intense emotions or disturbing thoughts, are normal responses.

If your trauma response is significant, it can disrupt or make your grief more intense and longer lasting. Some people refer to this as “traumatic grief.” It’s important to know that this term refers to grief that itself may be considered to be “traumatic” or prolonged, but not all grief after a traumatic experience is “traumatic grief.” 

Words of wisdom

If you’ve experienced trauma related to a death or events connected to it, it’s important to acknowledge your response to the trauma. Not addressing your grief and the trauma you’ve experienced can sometimes lead to other issues, including a greater risk for generalized anxiety and depression and other impacts on your quality of life. You may become more socially isolated, or your interpersonal relationships may suffer. This can deprive you of support at a time when you need it most.