Grief Topic

Grief Reactions Associated with Accidental or Traumatic Death

Death as a result of traumatic accident and disaster can raise a number of complex issues for people. The grief process is often different from an expected or anticipated death.

Firstly, the bereaved person may have been physically injured or threatened during the disaster. There may be a range of other losses including the loss of the home or a number of family members. The memories of the accident or the disaster may dominate the person’s mind. They may be taken up with feelings of numbness, unreality and fear. There are attempts to interpret what is happening to them.

These memories, particularly if the person’s relative died in extremely distressing circumstances may dominate the person’s thoughts, rather than the memories of the person themselves. This can become a diversion from grieving for the deceased person. In that way the grief process may be disrupted. The memories of the traumatic death may cause so much distress, that the memories of the person who has died may be actively avoided.

The bereaved person may suffer from ’survivor guilt’, questioning why they survived when others have died and believing that they could or should have done more to prevent the tragedy.

A useful strategy can be to help the person separate the traumatic memories of the death, from the feelings of longing and positive attachment felt towards the person who has died. Understanding the response to a traumatic event and bereavement is particularly important.

A further issue that can disrupt the grief process is the tendency for people who have been severely traumatised to become emotionally numb, avoid talking about the issue and shut down. This can make it very difficult for them to access their inner feelings and to work through the disruptions and losses caused by the traumatic event.

It can be important to talk through, at length, the feelings of disruption, loss, horror and fear of the traumatic event. Some people may need to seek help from a health worker such as a doctor or counsellor for assistance in managing their grief and coming to terms with the horror and fear of the traumatic event. If there is significant depression or anxiety, medication from a doctor may help.