There are 39,000 deaths a year by suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 19-14 year olds and 15-14 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds. Spanning the ages, each of those who have taken their lives is someone’s child.
On hearing of the suicide of her 18-year-old son, singer Marie Osmond shares, “I thought someone had run a knife into my heart.”
The agony of losing a child by suicide is complicated by a number of factors:
Whether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.
How Does a Family Cope?
One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”
All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.
Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?
Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance
Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”
Historically we know that the opposite is true. As trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.
“Is Anyone Else Angry?”
Trauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.
Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.
Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.
Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response
It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.
The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.
Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.
One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …
Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.
Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.
Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.
While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.
Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?
A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.
Healing From the Body Out
The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …
Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.
Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.
Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.
Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.
Disaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.
Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.
While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.
Depression Occurs after Trauma:
Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.
Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.
The new film, “The Hunger Games,” based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, has outstripped Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax as the top grossing film this year. Perhaps because it is based on a young adult novel written in the voice of a 16-year-old heroine with many young fans, it earned a MPAA rating of PG-13 despite considerable violence. As such, there has been concern about its impact on the millions of teens who will be viewing it.
Research studies have demonstrated both an increase in aggression and desensitization to violence by children and teens viewing many hours of violence in TV shows, interactive games and films. Longitudinal, cross-sectional, and experimental studies have all confirmed this correlation.
In “ The Hunger Games” what is of particular concern is that the violence is lethal violence of children against children, an activity portrayed as “games.”
The Role of Parents
As parents you can best mediate the impact of what your children have seen or are viewing if you are “media literate” i.e. – you know what your children and teens are exposed to. Accordingly, if your teens have seen or are going to see “The Hunger Games,” it makes sense for you to see it. If necessary, see it separately.
The death of a loved one, be it our parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend ruptures the internal and external connection we have with that person. It is a connection that helps define our sense of self, mirrors who we are, impacts our feelings and influences our view of life.
From a relational perspective, death of a loved one is a crisis of self and a crisis of meaning.
What is Grieving?
Grieving is our reaction to the loss of a loved one. Beginning with the acute pang of loss, grief is often accompanied by numbing disbelief or unspeakable rage. Often there is a sense of emptiness, disorganization, the loss of the loved one and self.
It was some time after spending weeks in ICU with our youngest son, that I realized – If we had lost him, we would have also lost his brother.
In times of crisis, we too often overlook the bond between siblings and the unique but unrecognized grief suffered when a brother or sister dies.
Karen Hickman, founder of Gold Star Siblings shares that when her brother was killed serving in Vietnam, she felt like an outsider at the funeral,
“I had to grieve alone and where my parents couldn’t see me because I had to be strong for them and my younger brother.”
Author, T.J. Wray describes that the year her adult brother died she forgot how to breathe – but no one noticed. People tried to console her with comments like,
“Thank goodness, it wasn’t your husband or one of your children.”
The news of Bin Laden’s death has erupted on national and international levels in a mix of feelings. Attached to the thrill of justice served and military courage recognized are shadows of fear and the pain of catastrophic loss.
For survivors and the thousands who lost so many loved ones on 9/11 this is not only long awaited news, it is a déjà vu of that September day.
Once again there are ongoing calls of condolence and remembrances, non-stop media reports, and the visceral pain of losing a Dad, a child, a partner, a firefighter, a friend, a community, and the illusion of safety.
What Does this Mean for Emotional Healing?
It Invites Revisiting:
Highly charged events like Bin Laden’s Death are quite likely to trigger traumatic memories that unlike ordinary explicit memory for daily events are encoded under fight/flight conditions in those centers of the brain dealing with sensations and emotion. They can be sequestered for years – untold, intrusive as nightmares and flashbacks, haunting but never integrated into the story of one’s life. While this event might trigger pain, it may offer an opportunity to bear witness, to share and transform traumatic memories.