TRAUMA, LOSS AND BEREAVEMENT What is the impact of sudden and traumatic loss? The death of someone close to us, in any manner, can challenge us in the general ways just described. Although you may have experienced the death of a loved one due to an impaired driving crash, your grief reaction and general adjustment will involve these factors outlined so far. That said, this type of sudden loss is one that sometimes is described as “traumatic” because of the terrible circumstances in which your loved one died, and the corresponding intensity of your response. The total lack of anticipation or chance to prepare may be so overpowering that your entire world will be turned upside down. Your ability to cope is further overwhelmed because of the common initial reactions of shock, confusion, and the overall intensity of the experience. What follows is an outline of some of the distinctive features of a sudden, violent loss such as you have experienced: There was no warning. There was no chance for you to anticipate this traumatic loss. How your world was , now is not how your world is, although it is very difficult to begin to absorb this. Thus, part of your response may be extreme feelings of shock, if not outright numbness. Extreme, prolonged feelings of shock are common in the face of such sudden loss, and is the way that your system is attempting to protect you from the total pain of such a deep “injury.” There was no chance to say goodbye. Given that there was no warning, you and your loved one will have been “cut off in midstream.” Thus, you may find yourself consumed with your most recent interactions with them, and possibly troubled by your memories about these last encounters. People also describe a sense of “unfinished business” in a larger way, regretting things that were, or were not, said or done. While troubling, it is important to understand that this is entirely normal and expected when faced with such a sudden separation. The grief is intense. In addition to feeling so intensely stunned and shocked, those who have experienced such an unanticipated loss also may report extreme feelings of all sorts, such as confusion, anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, and sadness. The traumatic nature of this loss may fuel or complicate your emotional experience. In addition to the kinds of thoughts and feelings that occur in response to any type of loss, there also may be an accompanying stress response syndrome, involving greatly increased anxiety, a heightened sense of helplessness or powerlessness, “survivor guilt” (i.e., guilt for living, while your loved one has died), or a replaying in your mind an imagined scenario of how the death may have occurred. This stress response does not occur for everyone in your situation, but if so, it signals the traumatic nature of this loss for you. The world no longer seems safe or predictable. Until something like this happens in one’s life, many people assume that their life and world will proceed in a relatively predictable and sensible manner, with minor adjustments along the way. It also often is assumed that we are safe from danger, at least in our modern, routine dayto-day lives. When this type of sudden, violent death occurs, these assumptions are shattered. At times, you may experience profound confusion and anxiety because you have no other way to understand the world, and your loved one’s death may lead you to believe that the assumptions of safety and predictability no longer apply. You may be consumed with the death itself. Since this death does not make sense to you, you may find that there is much thinking about the death itself, reviewing the leadup to it, and looking for some way to understand it. You may find that you do this repeatedly. Again, this is a normal reaction to this unanticipated tragedy. continued ... POLICE ASSOCIATION OF NOVA SCOTIA 103