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Resiliency After Violent Death:
Lessons for Caregivers

Description | Reviews | Video Clip

Life after Loss

Radio KTOE, Mankato, MN
March 1, 2004, 1:30 - 2:00 Broadcast
Barbara Rubel, MA
Griefwork Center, Inc.
P.O. Box 5177, Kendall Park, New Jersey 08824

What Do I say?
(Families Coping with Complicated Mourning)

Carolyn's Introduction:

Barbara Rubel is a recognized expert in the field of sudden loss, death, dying, and bereavement, and is a nationally known bereavement specialist. Barbara was featured in a 1998 PBS Emmy winning documentary, Fatal Mistakes: Families Shattered by Suicide, narrated by Mariette Hartley. Barbara's best selling book, But I Didn't Say Goodbye: For parents and professionals helping child suicide survivors is an extraordinary resource. Her second book, Death, Dying, and Bereavement for Nurses and Health Care Professionals, published through Western Schools, will be available 2004.

What makes you so passionate about bereavement?

Both of my parents were retired NYC Police Officers. In 1986, my dad had deteriorating disks in his back. Though he was under a doctor's care, his pain was not being managed. His mental health due to the agonizing pain was deteriorating. And so, he killed himself with a self inflicted gun shot wound to the head. My dad completed suicide three weeks before my triplets were born. After their birth, I grieved his death . . . the death of a man who died so suddenly I did not have a chance to say goodbye. Being passionate about bereavement is being passionate about finding meaning in our loved one's life as well as their death and continuing the bond that was shared. And through grief crisis intervention those who mourn have an opportunity to do just that.

What and why is grief-crisis intervention after a sudden death on the survivors important?

Research suggests that coping after this type of loss is difficult for the entire family, including children, adolescents and adults. The survivor's grief response is intense with a prolonged trauma. Grief-crisis intervention helps the survivors want to go on living in the face of sudden death and positively impacts on their ability to cope. When a person is killed suddenly and violently, in the absence of support, survivors will not effectively deal with their grief. The problem stems from the violent and sudden nature of the death which has caused many questions to unfold. What the bereaved need is someone to listen to their story and help them understand their unique responses to grief. These needs are met when grief crisis intervention is effectively in place. This is especially true for parents whose child has suddenly died. In accidental death, parents believe they should have been better able to protect their children. In suicidal death, parents feel their child rejected and abandoned them. They also feel a social stigma. In homicidal death, they feel rage and revenge against the person who murdered their child and frustrated with the criminal justice system. Without intervention, parents would experience increased mental distress, trauma symptoms, delayed loss accommodation, declining physical health, and marital problems. They need to talk about their loss.

"I have not experienced a death in the family like some of my friends. I never know what to do or say to the family. So most of the time I just avoid them. As long as you are talking about this every week, tell us what we can do and say."

It is common to want to avoid those who are grieving especially when you are unsure of the right words. We avoid people and circumstances when we are uncomfortable. By knowing what to say, we are less uncomfortable. So, you can say: I'm sorry. I'm here if you want to talk. I wish I had known her better. I have great memories of him too. Feel what you feel. This must be so hard for you. Tell me about her.

I am glad you asked this question. Also, don't use clichés: This must have been God's will It was probably for the best. You'll get over it. Time heals all wounds. Everything will be all right.

We can't avoid death. We need to talk about it as we are reminded of our losses every day.

"Why do people put crosses and flowers by the road that mark the place where there was a bad car accident. I don't mean to be heartless but why do people want to be reminded where someone died? I only ask because I have not gone through this. Thanks for having this read on the air."

When people put crosses and flowers by the road it is called spontaneous memorialization. Whether the deceased was known to the person or not, these individuals want to acknowledge the death. It is a public response to the unanticipated violent deaths of a person or several people who died suddenly. Engaging in this routine activity becomes a ritual that is shared with others. The crosses, flowers, teddy bears, and notes become a display and outward sign of mourning. When someone dies suddenly, people may want to do something to acknowledge the death. Others want to talk about it or offer advice to those who mourn. Whether placing a candle at the site of where someone died or offering advice to the bereaved, sometimes there are no actions or words to describe the intense pain of loss.

"My husband ended his life. There are no words to explain how I feel. I find myself wondering why and blame myself for not doing something. I'm a mess and I'm left raising our 7-year-old child who keeps asking a lot of questions. I get all kinds of advice from friends and family mostly not to tell him about the suicide that it was an accident. What should I tell him?"

Be honest with your child about the suicide. Talk about it on his developmental level. Adults have difficulty with understanding why someone takes their life and that makes it hard to discuss the reasons why he died with a child. However, you should be honest with your child. I wrote a book called But I Didn't Say Goodbye: For parents and professionals helping child suicide survivors. It is available on or Barnes and Noble. In the book, But I Didn't Say Goodbye, I describe ways to talk to child survivors about depression and suicide. The key when helping grieving children is not to lie about the suicide but to share your grief, your questions, and your memories. There is a link between depression and suicide and we need to talk about it openly and honestly. No one knows how you feel. However, you and your son share the same memories of your husband. Talk to your child about your husband's life and the way he died and then create ways to heal, not alone, but together as a family.

"One of my children recently died in a car accident and my neighbor lady (well meaning) keeps telling me she knows how I feel because her husband died 6 years ago. I don't feel she really knows how I feel. I never expected to lose a child and it just doesn't seem normal to me."

I am very sorry to learn of your child's death. No one can know what you are feeling. Your neighbor is well meaning. She is attempting to reach out to you but does not have the right words. What she is saying is that her husband died and she has experienced grief. However, her grief is not your grief. You mentioned that losing your child just doesn't seem normal to you. Losing a child is not normal but the grief you are feeling is. I would recommend that you attend a Compassionate Friends support group, a bereavement group for grieving parents.

"Our Dad doesn't show any feelings since our sister died. Our Mom cries a lot. How come our Dad doesn't have any feelings about my sister?"

Everyone grieves in their own way. It sounds like your mom is an intuitive griever. Intuitive grievers express their emotions, such as crying. Your dad may be an instrumental griever. Thinking is predominant to feelings. He is thinking about his daughter. He may be reluctant to express his tears or talk about his feelings. But, your dad is grieving. He is simply grieving in his own way. There is a book by Martin and Doka that I recommend, Men don't cry . . . Women do. This book addresses how men and women grieve differently.

"I listen every week to the Life After Loss Show and I was surprised to learn that grief will affect your, body, mind and spirit. Could you please talk about this again?"

I look at grief as a palette. On a palette of grief there are many colors: emotional colors, behavioral colors, cognitive, spiritual and physical colors. These colors affect the body, mind and spirit. Some emotional colors include anger, loneliness, emptiness, abandonment. Some behavioral colors are crying, not sleeping or visiting places of remembrances. A few cognitive colors are confusion, dreams or disorientation. Spiritual colors include searching for meaning in the loss or questioning beliefs. Some physical colors are dry mouth, no energy, and tight throat. The colors blend together during the grief process. Some colors stand out more than others. Some people cry more than others. Some people question their beliefs more than others. The grief process is a blending of the colors of loss, and those colors are unique to the individual. There is a palette of grief and a portrait of loss.

In the portrait there is the bereaved - the person who is grieving, the deceased - the person that died, the circumstances of the death and the social and spiritual support given to the bereaved. What is most important when we look at the palette of grief or the portrait of loss is how we frame our portrait.

I believe that framing our portrait is how we cope with loss. Whether we create rituals, pray, plan for enjoyable events, use humor, attend a support group, or talk to friends or family members, we are not alone. Someone once said that grief shared is grief diminished. By listening today to this radio program, my hope is that we have helped you understand your grief and know are not alone. I invite the listeners to visit my website to contact me for more information.

Barbara Rubel, MA, CBS, CPBC
Certified Bereavement Specialist
Board Certified Expert in Traumatic Stress
Director, Griefwork Center, Inc.
Author, But I Didn't Say Goodbye

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Page created on 17 March 2004
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