Well Everybody Hurts Sometimes; Everybody Cries

I think Bram inadvertently trained me to wait for him. All those times he broke up with me and came back taught me to just be patient and he’d come back to me. That training and my tendency to put unpleasant things away and store them have left me living in a strange place for the last 15 years.

Karen compares her grief to that of other people, as if it’s a contest over who suffers the most or who grieves the hardest.  Everyone will suffer grief in their life, and every individual will grieve in their own way. MY feeling is that the worst thing that has happened to someone is just that–the very worst thing they’ve had to deal with and therefore traumatic. It’s ridiculous to compare grief. Nobody wins. 

But not all grief is the same. Traumatic grief is grief that is experienced after a sudden unexpected loss. It’s characterized by an intense, intrusive, complicated grieving process that can last for years after the event. Grieving is always difficult; when a loss is sudden, coping can feel impossible. If you’ve lost your support system, Traumatic grief can result. 

Other forms of grief are no less difficult to deal with. Traumatic grief is more likely to lead to complicated grief, or Prolonged Grief Disorder. The feelings that come with traumatic grief are more intense and can trigger intrusive thoughts or distorted survival mechanisms. Prolonged grief involves a deep longing  for the lost loved one and constant thoughts about them.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder relating to grief is also likely if you have an existing mental health condition at the time you experience a traumatic loss. If you’re living with depression or anxiety, you may have a more pronounced reaction to a loss. Symptoms of Traumatic Grief may include:

  • difficulty sleeping
  • nightmares
  • attempts to avoid all thoughts and activities associated with the trauma
  • Flashbacks
  • Emotional numbness
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Anger

People experiencing traumatic grief may also feel that what’s happened is unfair, or that they have unfinished business or something they need to work on. The symptoms are more intense, pervasive, and persistent than regular grief. People experiencing traumatic grief are also more likely to feel fear for themselves and/or others. Physical symptoms can  include:

  • shakiness or trembling
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • dry mouth
  • trouble breathing
  • muscle weakness

Another element of grief that many people experience is ‘magical thinking.’ Magical thinking is when a person believes that if they hope for something enough or perform the right actions then an unavoidable event can be averted. I held onto Bram’s clothes and art supplies for years because he’d need them when he returned. Experiencing a kind of insanity or derangement is part of grief. 

My grief got a little ‘stuck.’

If grief is an expression of how much you loved the person you lost, then grieving must last forever, right? But what is the point of continued grief? What does it achieve?

Watching someone else’s pain is hard and unfortunately many people are left to grieve alone. One person’s grief is not necessarily deeper or more profound than another’s, and what or who they are grieving doesn’t make their grief any more or less valid. Whether you are mourning the loss of a life partner, or a beloved pet, or a broken relationship, or a child who has suffered traumatic brain damage but still lives, the grief is valid and equal. 

I’ve had a very hard time convincing myself that Bram is actually not coming back this time. I’m still waiting for him to come home. Something this terrible can’t be real; a person as good as Bram shouldn’t be gone. Why was the only adult that ever made me feel safe taken away from me? It has to be the worst bad dream ever. I still talk to him all the time. I can’t believe he left without me; he died in my arms and I still can’t believe it.

Bram inadvertently trained me to wait for him. And I am still waiting 15 years later.

Grief is not self-pity. There is a hole in my life that used to contain safety, being seen and understood and heard, unconditional love, care for my children, singing, dancing, laughter. The university grief counselor told me “We need to get you over this so you can get married again.” I never went back. I’m no longer sure how old I am, because I lost a lot of things during the first year after Bram died. It’s like I ceased to exist for a year, or just erased that year from my mind and I constantly think I’m a year younger than I am.

My friend Marilyn, the administrative secretary at UND, told me I had become unanchored in space and time.

We all just go about grieving differently. We all deserve compassion and we’re all allowed to cry.

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