Trauma Survivors Network - provided by ATS

Survive. Connect. Rebuild.

A Program of the ATS

Traumatic Grief

Grief will inevitably disrupt mental functioning following the death of a loved one. While it should be emphasized that grief itself is a normal process of adapting emotionally and cognitively to the loss or absence of a loved one, sometimes the intensity of a person’s grief may be overwhelming or last longer than is healthy. This may occur for a variety of reasons. The relationship between the deceased and the bereaved might have been very close or complicated; the circumstances of the death may be sudden or traumatic, as in accident, disaster, or illness; or the grieving person may not have good coping skills or the social support that would help the grieving process. In situations like these, it may be helpful to seek professional help or counseling in order to resolve the grief.

When grief goes on longer than is healthy or when it is overwhelming, a diagnosis of Traumatic Grief might be appropriate. It may be helpful to draw an analogy to a physical illness. An illness is not a characteristic of a person; it is a state a person is in at a given time. Many illnesses are very treatable. Another analogy is to an acute injury. People are more or less vulnerable to disability from an injury, but some types of injury are so severe that they always cause impairment. Using such an analogy, it is possible to see that following an accident or disaster or the sudden death of a very close person, it is entirely normal to experience Traumatic Grief, just as it is normal to be unable to walk on a broken leg. It is also clear that it is a good idea to diagnose and treat these conditions. No one would tell a person with pneumonia "pull yourself together" or "get on with it" or expect a person with a deep cut or a broken bone to heal him- or herself. Although labels can be hurtful if misused, they can also be helpful. An ill person needs to have a "sick role" and to receive treatment. An ill person benefits from support and assistance from family and friends, as well as from treatment by a trained professional.

Symptoms of Traumatic Grief

  • Preoccupation with the deceased
  • Pain in the same area as the deceased
  • Memories are upsetting
  • Avoid reminders of the death
  • Death is unacceptable
  • Feeling life is empty
  • Longing for the person
  • Hear the voice of the person who died
  • Drawn to places and things associated with the deceased
  • See the person who died
  • Anger about the death
  • Feel it is unfair to live when this person died
  • Disbelief about the death
  • Bitter about the death
  • Feeling stunned or dazed
  • Envious of others
  • Difficulty trusting others
  • Lonely most of the time
  • Difficulty caring about others