Chapter 2: When grief and trauma come together

A normal response to an abnormal situation

I've been there
Kim talks about her son's death from a motor vehicle accident.(3:22)Video transcript
Marc recalls that at the time of Manon's death, he was in shock and felt unable to make decisions, yet knew he would need professional help. (3:22)Video transcript

I needed help and it took a while before I understood that there was nothing wrong with me. What was “wrong” was the terrible thing that happened.

A trauma response is a normal reaction to an abnormal situation. Emotions, such as guilt, anger, or fear, might seem more intense and persistent. You might feel overwhelmed or even numb.

Trauma responses have a broad range, including the following:

It’s important to know that responses will be different from one person to another. You might feel traumatized by a death or events that others might not consider “traumatic.” Or someone else might feel traumatized by an event that does not affect you as deeply. Keeping this in mind can help you to be more compassionate toward yourself and others.

What may help

  • Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings, even the painful or scary ones. Trying to ignore them or wait them out can prolong your grief and distress, and may lead to other problems, such as relationship difficulties, anxiety and/or depression.
  • Although it may be difficult, talking about your experience can help to “make it real” and shift you out of feeling “stuck.”
  • Spend time in environments that are soothing or relaxing, such as taking a nature walk or listening to music. Avoid overly stimulating situations that contain triggers, such as watching movies about illness, death, or violence.
  • Resist isolating yourself from others. Reach out for emotional support from people who are able to sit, listen, and be with you. Avoid or take a break from those who aren’t supportive.
  • Try your best engage in some of your normal daily activities: make your bed, have a shower, cook, or do errands if these tasks feel tolerable.
  • Ask or allow others to take over some of your chores. As much as possible, reduce your workload and the demands on your time and energy.
  • Remember that your grief may last longer than you expect. Try to be patient with yourself and consider whether you need to address your trauma response first.
  • If feelings of being stuck or overwhelmed begin to seriously interfere with your everyday life, seek professional help from someone trained in grief and trauma work. There are specific techniques you can learn to help you cope.