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:
In the past two weeks it has been difficult to be anywhere without reading or hearing about the Ohio Kidnapping, 10 year captivity, sexual abuse, torture and beatings causing miscarriages to three young woman and one daughter, locked in a neighborhood house by one man.
Both in and outside of my office people have commented and questioned:
Judith Herman tells us that a traumatic event is one that has the capacity to provoke fear, helplessness, or horror in response to the threat of injury or death, or witnessing that in another.
When the trauma is that of nature, we speak of disaster.
When the trauma is man-made, we speak of atrocities.
It is worth considering that in face of this Ohio atrocity, whether we live in that neighborhood or witness the horror in the virtual community of viewers, we cannot easily shake this inhumanity because it is not only traumatizing— it evokes moral injury.
According to psychologist Brett Litz, moral injury is the (social, psychological, spiritual, behavioral) impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent or bearing witness to acts that transgress our deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.
How Do We Deal …
Leaving death and destruction in their path, such events undermine our necessary denial that life is predictable, that children can be safe and that we can be in control.
For a time, we are left wounded, shaken, vulnerable and afraid. Caught in the traumatic moment, we fill in the future unknowns with expectations of more of the same trauma so that next time we will be ready.
Eventually, despite the memory, the extreme loss, the bodily injuries and even the fear, we want our lives back, we want our children to play, and we want to smile…
We need to find a way to survive and at times even succeed with life’s uncertainties.
Here are six strategies that may begin to answer that need. Some you may already use. Some you may want to consider.
Validation of True Self
“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 …
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.
Today a small community in Connecticut saw those beliefs shattered as eight adults and 20 children were violently killed.
What do you say when children are killed?
The most realistic answer, I have found is given by author, Charlie Walton, a father who himself lost his two sons in one night. What Charlie Walton urges friends, family and loved ones to understand is that when children die – there are no words. Words are insufficient to explain what has happened.
In his powerful little book When There are No Words: Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief, he clarifies that in the first hours and days of such loss, there is nothing he could say to himself and nothing that anyone else could say to him to make it right. There is nothing right about the death of children.
While the violent loss in Connecticut has broken hearts and stolen words – it does not take away the connections and power of loved ones to ease and help contain pain. We have learned through trauma outreach that the most viable sources of response are the familiar networks of support.
In this early stage of excruciating and bewildering loss – we know that a crucial step to easing pain and to feeling some emotional safety is to know you are not alone.
This is an unfathomable tragedy of loss by so many. A nation watches in tears. A nation hopes that the families …
This weekend the Wounded Warrior Project came to our town. Many had the opportunity to run the 4-mile race next to veterans and their families. The t-shirt of the young man in front of me read “ New Year’s Eve 5K, Afghanistan. ” Many were wearing shirts that read, “ If you Like Freedom- Thank a Vet.” The father of a vet wore a shirt that read, “ We’ve got them back-Now Welcome Them Home.”
As of August 12, 2012 there are 49,251 wounded service members, 320,000 suffering with Traumatic Brain Injury and 400,000 with PTSD. We have lost 6,549 of our men and women to war.
On the 11th Anniversary of 9/11, thousands remembered an unprecedented terrorist attack on this country that took the lives of close to 3,000 worldwide and plunged us into war. It was an event shared publically by the world and suffered privately by too many.
How Do We Go On In The Aftermath Of Pain And Traumatic Loss?
Here are three possible guidelines for finding your way to new meaning in life after trauma:
Meaning by the Hour
In his wisdom, Frankl clarified that finding a new meaning in life does not mean arriving at a single goal that will direct the rest of your life, or make sense of evil. Rather finding new meaning in life should be translated to finding a reason to go on, to having a purpose, to feeling valuable in the hour, the day, the week.
A 14-year-old adolescent girl, who lost her Dad on 9/11, has struggled for these 11 years with shyness, loss of two grandfathers, few friends and the …
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.
Be it the toy truck, the pasta bowl, the piano, the silver earrings or the old books, we all have stuff because psychologically we need stuff.
Sartre holds that “to have” (along with “to do” and “to be”) is one of the three categories of human existence…
Wired for Stuff
Famous psychologist, Donald Winnicott, tells us that long before we could verbalize the need, we transitioned from merged oneness with mother to “transitional objects,” the favorite blanket, pacifier, stuffed animal, or a piece of cloth that was attributed a special value as a means of making the shift from mother to genuine object relationships.
That said, our relationship with objects, “our stuff” never stops. It unfolds throughout our life; reflecting who we are, where we are, whom we are connected with and what we need to be ourselves.
One of the reasons we find it easier to ask others rather than ourselves, “Do you really need this stuff?” is that the actual value of anything is primarily a function of our investment in it and/or our interaction with it. We give “stuff” value and meaning.
It would seem that hope, which is broadly defined as an emotional state that promotes the belief in a positive outcome, is in inherent in human nature.
Reflections of the importance of hope are found in early mythology, religion, philosophy and literature.
Pandora, although forbidden, opened the box given to her by Zeus, and in a moment, all the curses were released into the world and all the blessing escaped and were lost- except one: hope.
“To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.” ― The King James Version of the Bible
“Hope is a waking dream.” –Aristotle
“Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.” -Albert Camus
“Hope is that thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops — at all.” -Emily Dickinson
Clearly we need hope, but even as we embrace it we often wonder – Does hope really make a difference? Is it myth, fiction, collective denial?
There is actually increasing scientific evidence that hope changes us psychologically and physiologically – that it makes a difference.