The word “reave” means to be torn or split. The death of someone we are close to, tears us and splits us apart. Part of us knows the person has gone and part of us knows it cannot be true – that it can never be true. We cannot understand how the world can go on when he or she is no longer in it. Our world is blasted apart. The loss of someone we love always has a profound impact upon us but sometimes a death is also traumatic and then we are struggling with both grief and trauma.
Normal grief has enough trauma of its own. But there are also griefs which are so torn and so split – by circumstances, by the complexities of the relationship by not being able to get to the person before they died, that grief cannot find its way. In these circumstances, healing cannot begin. The mind loses its footing and stumbles, and something is needed to support the process of grieving. Trauma therapy is one way to offer that support. I offer online bereavement therapy based in Bedfordshire and Devon. The approach I use for traumatic and complex grief is EMDR which is an evidence-based trauma therapy.
EMDR is recommended by NICE (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) and by the World Health Organisation for the treatment of trauma. When a death has been traumatic it can lead to complex grief which means that the process of grieving may become stuck and it becomes very difficult or impossible to engage with life in the present or to connect fully with other people.
EMDR can help to resolve trauma which allows the natural process of grieving to take place. EMDR will not erase a memory but it can change a traumatic memory to a difficult memory which is connected with natural and appropriate emotions and allows grieving to begin or to resume.
Many people who feel that they cannot re-engage with their life after the loss of someone they loved and who therefore seek bereavement counselling, are told by people around them that they “ought be getting over it by now”. However, we are all very different in the way that we grieve and how long the process takes us.
Losses may seem very similar on the surface, for example two women in their sixties both lose their husbands in similar circumstances. However, the women may have had very different childhoods. One may have grown up in a very stable family where she was supported and comforted when she was distressed. In adulthood, this person will probably know how to comfort herself when she is upset and how to ask for support from others when she needs it.
The other woman may have had a very chaotic childhood with parents who did not know how to help her manage her feelings. This person may have learnt to “put the lid on” difficult emotions and feel panicked and overwhelmed by the loss of their partner and have no sense of how to manage the waves of distress she is experiencing.
Bereavement counselling can help us to understand more fully why we are responding in the way that we are. This enables us to be self-supportive rather than self-critical. It can also help us, as adults, to learn skills of emotion regulation which we may not have had the opportunity to learn when we were children.
When we have lost someone close to us, there is a sense in which we never “get over it”. Our life will always be different after the loss and the absence of the person will continue to impact us in the future. Nevertheless, the process of grieving enables us to accept the reality of the death and to find ways of reconnecting with ourselves, our life and the people who are still with us. In other words, we learn to again to live in the present and not to be frozen in the past.