Loss, Grief and Trauma

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Understanding Grief

Grief is a universal experience. It is a human response to a loss of someone we love and value. However, it can also be a very difficult experience. 

It can be helpful to recognise that grief is a process and that each person experiences grief in a unique way. The following factors may influence how grief is experienced: 

  • the relationship with the person who died 
  • the circumstances surrounding their death 
  • how emotional distress has been managed in the past 
  • the support network 

The experience of grief can sometimes be very intense. Some people feel they are ‘going mad’ as grief affects the whole of our being and can leave us feeling out of control and overwhelmed.  We need to give ourselves and others permission to grieve and be patient when the process seems to be taking what we consider to be a long time. 

Grief is expressed in many ways and there is no specific timeline for the experience. Most people become aware that life will never be the same as it was and in time learn to integrate the reality of the loss into their lives. 

Over time, the pain should get less. Most people start to recognise they are having more frequent and longer times when they feel more energy and hope. They may notice their memories are not as painful for as long, although this pain may never go away altogether. 

Seeking out professional assistance can be helpful for some people. 

Some common responses to grief;


Isolation, social withdrawal, intolerance of others, loss of interest in others, tearfulness, restlessness. 


Confusion, forgetfulness, racing mind, poor concentration, difficulty in making decisions, a sense of unreality, repeated disturbing imagery. 


Shock, disbelief, sadness, distress, numbness, anxiety, guilt, fear, anger, helplessness. 


Change in appetite, change in sleeping, tiredness, headaches, colds. 


Loss of meaning, loss of direction, questioning faith/beliefs, searching for understanding. 

Suicide and Grief

Grief in response to a suicide can be particularly intense and difficult. It can raise many questions for family and friends of the person who died. 

 Some of the experiences of grief and bereavement following suicide might include: 

  • a sense of unreality, numbness, nightmares and intrusive thoughts. 
  • feelings of guilt and failure that it was not prevented. 
  • feeling responsible. 
  • experiencing the suicide as a reflection of the quality of the relationship with the person. 
  • a sense of shame and stigma, that other people will think negatively about you and your family. Sometimes this can result in feeling alone and wanting to withdraw from others. 
  • blaming others. 
  • an unrelenting need to ask why; trying to make sense of and understand why it happened. 
  • feelings of rejection and abandonment. 
  • anger towards the person who has suicided. 

What do I tell others?

Some people find it difficult to tell others that it was suicide and choose not to do so. Initially, this may feel easier. However, it may result in experiencing a sense of unease and distance in your relationships with others. This may lead to a lack of support and a sense of isolation. Being as open and honest as possible is recommended. 

Some things which may help

It is important not to expect too much of yourself in the early stages. For a while you may not have the energy or motivation to live your life in the same way as before. Remind yourself that you are reacting to a devastating blow. 

Many people who are bereaved by suicide have feelings of guilt and regret. They may feel they should have seen the suicide coming. ‘If only …” or ‘I wish …’ are common thoughts. Parents may feel there was something wrong with their parenting.  Brothers, sisters and partners may feel responsible particularly when there has been family stress or conflict.  It is important for bereaved people to remember that they acted with the information they had at the time.  With hindsight, it is often easy to see signs of the person’s distress and to criticise what was or was not done. 

Some may feel there were many things they would have liked to have said to the person but were unable to because of the suddenness of the death. They may yearn to tell them they were loved, or to settle misunderstandings. It is common to feel sadness about the unfinished, unlived life, but it may help to recognise the person’s contributions and influences during their life and to remember the time spent together. 

Some people find it helpful to acknowledge that their lives will never be the same again.

You will never be the same again, you will never get over it, but you will have a life again, you will wake up in the morning and feel good. You will start to make plans for the future. At some point, life will feel normal again; not the old normal, the new normal.

Don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. Some people will not be able to handle your grief, so find those who can. Seek out an understanding friend, family member or support group. Some bereaved people suggest it is best to do this sooner rather than later as it can make a real difference to you and your family and friends. 

For a few people there may be an experience of relief, particularly if there has been a long period of difficulty leading up to the death. 

In a family, it is important to communicate with one another while at the same time having respect for each other’s way of handling the experience. 

Experiencing Trauma

Grief is not the only experience that people bereaved by suicide face. Many people also suffer the impact of trauma. Some people will have found the person who died and will usually be affected by trauma. But those who have not found the person may also be traumatised by the impact of the death. 

Definition of Trauma

The word trauma derives from the Greek word for wound. It is an event of such intensity as to seriously wound a person’s sense of themselves, their value and worth, their world view and their sense of safety in the world. 

Trauma is caused by witnessing disturbing and horrific scenes but can also occur for those not present, when they are told about what happened. The experience of trauma is a reaction to these traumatic events. 

As trauma is different to grief, trauma and grief may be experienced either alternately or at the same time. It is possible that the combination of trauma and grief may intensify the reactions they have in common. 

Reactions to trauma

A person’s mind and body may react to trauma over a period of time, perhaps days, weeks or months. As with grief, people react to trauma in different ways. 

Some of the more common reactions are listed below. We don’t expect that everyone will experience all of these reactions.  Should this be turned into a fact sheet? 

  • palpitations, trembling or sweating 
  • easily startled by noises 
  • breathing difficulties 
  • headaches or muscle aches 
  • digestive problems such as nausea, constipation, diarrhoea or a change in eating patterns 
  • tiredness, fatigue, restlessness 
  • increased irritability 
  • increased use of alcohol and/or drugs 
  • withdrawal or detachment from others, loss of interest in social activities 
  • lack of motivation 
  • avoidance of certain places or situations that are reminders of the experience 
  • sleep problems 
  • flashbacks or re-experiencing the disturbing event while awake, or in dreams 
  • pre-occupation with what happened, repetitive thoughts, asking ‘why?’ 
  • confused or slowed thinking 
  • difficulty concentrating or making decisions 
  • experiencing memory problems 
  • feeling responsible 
  • increased anxiety, panic attacks 
  • troubled or distressed when exposed to other disturbing events e.g. on television or in the newspaper 
  • worry about others 
  • feelings of abandonment, isolation, powerlessness 
  • feeling out of control or that life and the world are out of control 
  • numbness and/or have mood swings 
  • may experience a variety of emotions, including depression, sadness, guilt, blame, anger, frustration, fear, and irritability 

These symptoms can be distressing, however there are ways to work through trauma. In many cases, these symptoms decrease dramatically in the weeks following the traumatic event. 

Ways of responding to trauma

Acknowledge that you have experienced a traumatic event and consider trying some of the following:  Should this be turned into a fact sheet? 

  • reassure yourself that the traumatic event is over, that you are safe now, and that seeing mental images of the events is normal and will decrease over time 
  • if you want to be left alone, allow yourself time to be alone; this is a normal way to react after a highly stressful experience. However, if your mood is not improving when alone, it may be better to seek company 
  • if you are feeling alone or isolated, spend some time with friends or family 
  • express your thoughts and feelings by talking to friends and family, or write, listen to music etc. Only do this if it feels comfortable, do not push yourself 
  • do not feel that you have to be in control of your life straight away. Give yourself time to recover and rest 
  • rest more; if you are having difficulty sleeping, get out of bed and try to do something calming instead, then try again 
  • take care of your health as best you can; eat healthily, in smaller portions if necessary, and drink fluids regularly 
  • be aware of how much tea and coffee you are drinking. These may further agitate your body when it is already under stress. Exercise can help burn off the stress chemicals 
  • it is best to avoid increased use of alcohol, prescription medication and other drugs. These can interfere with the recovery process and cause additional problems later on. 
  • because traumatic events affect concentration, be more careful when undertaking activities like driving and cooking 
  • avoid making major decisions. However, making smaller, day-to-day decisions can help to restore a sense of control 
  • it is important not to go through this experience alone. Grief is difficult enough by itself but when there is also trauma it is better to seek support. 

You should consider seeking out support services if: 

  • you are having panic attacks 
  • you feel very distressed and your life and routines are significantly disrupted 
  • you are thinking of harming yourself or someone else. 

If you require immediate support, you can find details of crisis support services <here> 

If you would like to arrange to meet with one of our experienced bereavement counsellors you can contact us on 1800 943 415.