Bereavement due to traumatic death

Messages to others

People offered many different kinds of advice based on their experiences of having been bereaved by a traumatic death. They also stressed that people are all different and what works for one person may not work for someone else.

Some people felt quite strongly that after someone dies it is important to express one’s feelings.

Alison said that it is important not be too sensitive to what other people might say. People may say things, such as, “I could kill for a cup of tea”, and not realise that such remarks can seem insensitive to those who have been bereaved due to murder or manslaughter.

Planning the funeral can be daunting. Josefine and her husband started the Natural Death Centre, which offers telephone advice. Josefine said that there are actually very few rules about how the burial has to be handled (see ‘The funeral or commemoration’). She compares natural death to natural birth and says that while professionals may help they don't necessarily know better than the bereaved. Elizabeth also felt that we ‘sanitise death in this society’ and may regret it if we allow professionals to take over the funeral.

Many people suggested that after a traumatic death it is important to talk about the death, allow yourself time to grieve and to seek help in one way or another.

After Tamsin’s brother died she went back to where she used to live, and roamed the fields where she and Matthew used to walk the dog. She said it brought her peace of mind and she suggests that after a death others may benefit from doing equally illogical and sentimental things.

Tamsin found it exhausting when other people, such as friends or colleagues, poured out their own grief about her brother’s death, and told her what he had meant to them. She recommends that after bereavement it is important not to spend too much time and energy comforting others. On the other hand William pointed out that other members of the family may need support and that they should not be forgotten. He recommends that people support each other and talk to each other about what has happened.

After a sudden traumatic death bereaved relatives may be desperate for more information about what caused the death and they may feel that they need professional advice to get justice for the person who died.

Views differed on whether time really is a ‘great healer’. Ian knows people who are as bitter today as they were a decade ago and believes that the experience differs greatly. After the Bali bombing Jocelyn saw how different families dealt with their loss in different ways; he concluded that it may require a conscious effort of willpower to move on and not get ‘stuck’ in the trauma of bereavement.

Martin was devastated after his wife was killed by a bus. Two years later he thought that the passage of time had not made him feel any better, but he said that after a while he understood that at least he wasn’t going mad. However, others, such as Stephen and Peter, thought that their feelings had got less painful as the years passed.

Julie suggested the bereaved should try to remember people as they were and not the horrible way in which they died. Angela said that it is important to continue living and that the deceased friend or relative would not want their death to ruin the lives of others. Carole also said that the dead would not want people to sit hour after hour crying. She said that although it’s not easy, people should still try to enjoy themselves. Nina advised others to try to find something to enjoy every day. 

After a traumatic death some people drew great comfort from helping others and by creating a memorial to the person who had died (see ‘Memorials, websites and headstones’) People wanted to pass on the message that people bereaved by death can help themselves by helping others to survive a traumatic death, and by trying to prevent other traumatic deaths (also see ‘Adjusting to life without the person who died’).

Matthew said that although there is a lot to deal with after a traumatic death, it can sometimes help the grieving process to focus on practical issues first. He said that it is also important to accept that there has been a major change in your life and find a way to adapt and accommodate it.

Last reviewed October 2015.

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