Chapter 2: When grief and trauma come together
What is a “traumatic” death?
The memories of my daughter’s death kept playing over and over in my mind like a movie. These memories came whenever they wanted, and often I could not will them away.
In some ways, every death is traumatic since it confronts us with the reality of not only someone else’s death, but also our own. However, some deaths are more commonly thought of as “traumatic” than others, even though not everyone will feel traumatized or have a trauma response to these deaths.
In general, a traumatic death is sudden, unexpected, and/or highly distressing, and it overwhelms one's ability to cope. Trauma can be due to the manner of the death, the circumstances surrounding it, or both.
Click on the arrows to see some examples.
An “unnatural” death (e.g., poisoning or overdose)
An untimely death (e.g., death of a child or youth)
An unexpected death (e.g., pregnancy loss or miscarriage, suicide, car accident, heart attack)
A death that is considered preventable (e.g., due to medical error)
A death that involves great suffering (e.g., unmanaged pain; abuse)
A random death (e.g., due to natural disaster)
A violent death (e.g., due to mass killing or terrorism)
A death caused by another person with or without intent to harm (e.g., due to shooting)
A death regarded as unfair or unjust (e.g., execution or police shooting)
A public disaster or large accident with many casualties (e.g., car or plane crashes, fires)
A traumatic death can have a more than one of the above, or additional, characteristics. It’s important to remember that it is not simply the nature of the event or the experience itself that makes the death traumatic, but also how you interpret and experience the event.