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Trauma/Tragedy

Question:

I lost my son 4 mo ago in a car crash. he was 16 and run off the road by a speeding passing auto. I am 3 sec from tears at all times and life has lost all meaning in my heart. is this healthy? reasonable? average? expected? I am 46 with a 12 year old son survivor of the crash with a strong 20 year marriage.

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Answer:

You are grieving now and it is okay and good that this is so. The death of your son has been truly tragic for you (and your family, I suspect), even traumatic. In the normal course of grief, people typically react by going through a period of disbelief, followed by an alternation between anger, sadness, despair, and sometimes detachment. Gradually, people work though their intense emotions, and come to a place of acceptance (or maybe just resignation). The intense pain subsides and life begins to go on again.

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p>People faced with a traumatic loss sometimes go beyond normal grief into some thing called an ‘Acute Stress Disorder’, or (six months post trauma) a ‘Posttraumatic Stress Disorder’. In these stress disorders, the magnitude of the loss is so great that the person cannot process it – the trauma gets ‘stuck’ (as it were) in the mind of the person and they aren’t able to metabolize it easily. There are three classic symptoms of these sorts of Stress Disorders: 1) dissociation (during which the person gets detached, numb, avoidant), 2) Intrusion (during which the person re-experiences the traumatic event in a spontaneous, unbidden and often highly painful way), and 3) Hyper-vigilance (in which you become more jumpy and anxious than you were prior to the trauma). Persons dealing with Stress Disorders frequently alternate between extremes of dissociation and intrusion, or get stuck in one of these states.

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p>The best way to deal with trauma and grief is to talk about it – the events, your feelings about those events. There is a window into which you want to fit your talk, however. Too much of it could overwhelm – not enough could fail to achieve the therapeutic effect. No one should be forced to talk about their grief. But persons who are grieving should talk about their grief as much as they are comfortable with doing. It may hurt to do this, but it re-connects you with life to do so.

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p>If you are deeply depressed, traumatized (and especially if you are suicidal!), you may wish to seek a doctor’s care. There are medicines that can help ease the pain, or provide support to your nervous system so you don’t get too depressed. You’ll need to make the med decision on your own (or with guidance from your family and friends) – but there is no need to be a martyr about it either. There are also excellent healing resources in the form of support groups and therapists who can help hurting persons to find meaning again.

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p>If you are suicidal, please seek mental health help immediately. Call your local community mental health center for help with locating a good doctor. Or go to the emergency room if you are in a crisis. They’ll likely send you home if you aren’t going to kill yourself tonight (and charge you for the privilege) – but if you are going to kill yourself tonight if you are not stopped from doing so – it is far better to be at the hospital than to be dead.

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p>At four months, it is normal enough for you to be feeling intense loss and despair. It would be less expectable at one year post the event. I encourage you to immediately get some professional support for yourself and your family, just the same. Family therapy would be indicated, but individual therapy would be fine as well.

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p>Finally, please accept my condolences. I can’t imagine the loss you’ve sustained. I can only say that life is a resilient thing and that if you work at it, you will find meaning and a reason to embrace life again.

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