The grief from a tragedy can be a very different experience than the traditional five stages of grief outlined by Elizabeth Kubler Ross. In her book Trauma and Recovery, the Aftermath of Violence, Judith Herman notes that it is not just about the loss of losing a loved, but also how they died. Death in a tragedy is often shocking, grisly, and unfathomable. It leads to complex grief, which is deep, painful, and difficult. Tragedies, such as suicide leave lingering thoughts, feelings, and emotions with so many questions that never get answered. Grieving someone who died in a tragedy can be similar to post-traumatic stress or secondary trauma in that the process is complicated and full of unfamiliar experiences. In this case we are invited to a table where grief, suffering and misery sit as part of that grief experience. Along with shock, there can be a reliving experience, disassociation, confusion, anger, guilt, and depression. There can be changes in mood, sleep, and appetite, along with a shift in a person’s world view, and their perspective on faith. Tragic deaths can cause someone to question the meaning of being alive and put their mind into an existential tailspin wondering why such things happen. It can bring shame and withdrawal. It also forces a person to contend with a feeling of unbearableness when coming to terms with the fact that their loved one is permanently gone.
Buddhist theory invites every human soul to have an awakening. For some, such as myself, my ex-husband’s suicide was my awakening. When my grief didn’t stop after the first year, after doing “all the right things”, I began searching to better understand what was happening. What I discovered were different stages of grief. New things to focus on. That makes sense for such a complex process. I needed landmarks, reassurance. The model I found that most resonated with my experience I found on the Alliance of Hope website. They call it the grief journey and outline the following: the introduction, impact, second crisis, observation, the turn, reconstruction. The final stage is working through things for integration. Each stage explains the process you are naturally moving through.
I can safely say that writing about this has helped immensely with each stage of this unexpected journey. It has also helped with integrating this experience into my being, in telling our story to our children, in connecting with suicide loss survivors, and in talking about suicide, loss and death as a grief coach.
Everyone grieves differently. There is no right way to do this. And there is, unfortunately not manual or road map that comes with this treacherous journey. As Elizabeth Kubler Ross and David Kessler wrote in their book On Grief and Grieving: Finding Meaning Through the Five Stages of Loss, “No matter how you work at your feelings fully, you never find the closure that you hear about or see in the movies. But you do find a place for loss, a way to hold it and live with it.”