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How Do You Come To Terms With Traumatic Bereavement?

The anniversary of a traumatic bereavement comes around again.  Another year has passed since you lost your beloved.  The grief is still there but it is a year older.

Is it easier now?  Possibly yes.  Time does make a difference.  Not that it always feels like that when the anniversary rolls around.

Death is a profound experience.  A traumatic sudden death is hard to come to terms with.  And when we say coming to terms, what do we mean?

One way that I understand coming to terms is like this.

We may never have thought of it, but our relationships are much fuller than we ever realise.  When someone dies every single bit of us, every single atom of us has to say goodbye to the person we have lost.

If we are lucky, we get the chance to do that.  We get the chance to say how grateful we have been to have each other.  But in sudden deaths, in traumatic deaths we often do not get that chance.  The person is just suddenly ripped out of our lives and gone from us.  Death is permanent.  It is hard to get used to the permanence.

Suddenly we are trying to get our minds around what has happened.  We have to do a massive reorienting project.  At a cognitive level we can have some understanding of what has happened.  But we are much more than just cognitive beings.  We are conscious of some things; we are unconscious of others.  And it is in the unconscious depths of ourselves that much of the painful work of mourning goes on.

  • Where our memories exist with all of the emotional associations that are attached to them.
  • Where are dreams come from, with all of the strange and moving things that are involved with them.

Deep within you, every bit of you is adjusting to the loss.  Every atom of you is saying goodbye.


I looked up from my coffee and my paper in Café Nero and without thinking about it I felt the woman just leaving the café was my mother.  She had the same wavy grey hair and a very similar long dark coat.  It was my mother.  And then I caught up with myself and thought; no, it’s not, because my mother has been dead for 18 months.  It was strange.  It made me realise that there are still parts of me that haven’t come to terms with the fact that my mother is dead.


You can make a conscious effort to say goodbye.  You can work on it.  But you have to be patient and kind to yourself because death is not an experience that you can digest in one go.  You have to work over it.  In some cases, where deaths are traumatic, sudden, maybe deaths that are reported as accidental or as suicide, you are left with a very hard task.

You are destined to have to think over these almost impossible questions about death.  And living on this small planet, where anniversaries seem to come around faster and faster you are suddenly back at the day again.  You remember the way you heard the news.  You remember where you were, what you were doing.  You remember how only the moment before you were a different person.  Whatever challenges you were dealing with you weren’t dealing with this.

The last time I saw my mother she had left my house on a Sunday afternoon.  It had been quite a good afternoon, but I was impatient to get on with things and I think she knew it.  Two days later she was killed in a car accident.


We come to terms with death in mysterious ways.  Somehow over time we adapt.  Because that is what we do, we adapt.  If you recognise that you, or perhaps a loved one is struggling to adapt, to come to terms with a death, or a traumatic bereavement, maybe it is time to do something about it.  Trauma interferes with our adaptive processes.  But there are ways of helping yourself.

Talking in Psychotherapy or Counselling helps

The act of talking, of sharing our stories in a confidential setting helps.  The act of talking and of being with another for the purpose of acknowledging that you are struggling to adapt is helpful in itself.

Sometimes there are no words, there may be long silences.  Try not to be put off.  Trauma, death, things that are very hard to come to terms with involve silences. You have come because that part of you, Jung would call it psyche, that part of you that adapts, is in need of care and attention.  If you can give yourself the chance you will adapt.  You cannot put a time limit on how long that may take.  But you can start to do it.

This is the work of coming to terms with things.

How Do You Come To Terms With Traumatic Bereavement?

Toby Ingham

Toby Ingham is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist and supervisor based in High Wycombe in England. Toby works on both a short and long-term basis with people who are trying to work through a variety of situations. Sometimes these relate to a specific event such as CPTSD, bereavement, divorce or redundancy, sometimes relating to a more general problem or behavior. He blogs on a wide range of psychological themes.

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APA Reference
, . (2019). How Do You Come To Terms With Traumatic Bereavement?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Nov 2019
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