Grief, Loss, Suicide and Trauma

"At some point there is a moment at which you realize the person is not coming back and your original self is never going to be complete or the same. You will spend the rest of your life living with a major loss and it is going to be okay. You can do that. It's not going to be so aching and so terrible that you can't function, that you can't re-create your own life." Mother of a teenaged accident victim. (Staudacher, 1987, pg. 3)

Loss is an inevitable and universal aspect of life. Everyone experiences losses of many varieties, and the longer one lives, the more losses one is likely to encounter. However, many people have difficulty accepting and moving past their losses, partly because our society seems to avoid the pain of grief.

Loss takes many forms, not just obvious ones such as death, suicide, the ending of a relationship, or rape. Moving, graduation, illness, and even success can cause pain and require adjustment and grieving. Losses that are not acknowledged by others or cannot be openly discussed can be very difficult to accept, such as death of a coworker, ending of a homosexual relationship, or a miscarriage or abortion. The common factor is that losses require grieving to resolve them, and very often people find themselves unprepared and unknowledgeable about the process of grief. For grief is not a static thing, it is a process with lots of ups and downs.

Experts have delineated stages or processes of grief but these are only sketches of tasks that everyone addresses in differing ways, and times, often revisiting a task in a more thorough way. People also vary in their unique reaction to loss, depending upon the personal meaning of the loss and previous experiences with grieving. In addition to expected emotional reactions of sadness and anxiety, many people experience a variety of behavioral, cognitive, and physiological symptoms as well that can be surprising if one is unprepared.

While most people complete their grief process alone or with the help of loved ones, some find comfort by reading about others' experiences. There are many books readily available that are either educational, task-oriented, or poetically expressive of the grief process. Books can be helpful in recommending suggestions for coping and providing a sense of comfort through difficult times. However, some reactions to loss interfere with the grief process and are best addressed in counseling. Dangerous symptoms of excessive use of drugs or alcohol, suicidal or homicidal thoughts, or difficulty managing day-to-day duties warrant contacting a trained counselor to deal with your pain. There is no need to endure loss alone.

At times, loss is complicated by events that are shocking and tragic in nature. One might witness a car accident, survive a tornado, or be victimized violently. These losses are more complicated to grieve and often are associated with specific troubling symptoms. They may benefit from specific treatments such as debriefing with others involved in the trauma, or individual counseling. Persons at Ball State University may utilize the services of the Trauma Response Team at Counseling Center for needed assistance in adjusting to a traumatic event.