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Experiences of Traumatic Loss - The Confusion

When people do things we don’t understand or when someone dies unexpectedly, it leads our mind into a state of confusion. Contrary to what it feels like, confusion is a normal and logical state for the mind to be in after a tragic loss. There are two parts to this; the fact the person died suddenly and how they died. I learned after my ex-husband’s suicide that how someone dies can be devastating and confusing. It not only matters but adds another layer to the experience of grief.

All of this is a heavy load for our brain to process. Our logical brain offers us organization and rationalization. Our minds seek to sort it and put things in an order. It’s designed to make sense of the world. This process is also a sort of aligning with our view of how the world works. When something happens that doesn’t fit our perception or experience of reality, confusion sets in (with questions) as the reorganization starts. That includes understanding people and their behavior, and all of the details pertaining to the death itself. It’s the brain letting you know that it is doing its job and trying to sort things out.

When new information, new thoughts, strong emotions, and responses arise, it can catch you by surprise. Sometimes, the depth and complexity of the grief itself is overwhelming and confusing. Things may feel out of control. I remember feeling like I was in a landslide trying to deal with tasks immediately after his death. I felt like I couldn’t keep up. I remember questions that I did not know how to answer. And I remember thinking things that never would have crossed my mind before the tragedy. If he were still alive . . . is this what he would have wanted? One night I tried to count all of the people he had worked with that would be impacted by his death. It seemed random thoughts became my reality. Especially at 1:30 am, the time he died, which eventually became a regular time of contemplation, confusion and questioning for me.

Yes, grief can change you. No one tells you this. Tragic loss can be a very difficult experience. And it molds you and changes your landscape whether you want it to or not. Confusion is a big part of this. So is contemplation. It takes time to sort through all of the new and shocking information.

In the realm of deep grief, making sense of things is not really what it is about, even though that is the direction our mind heads. It is really about being with the big waves of grief that are now washing up on your shores. It is about being with the experience of grief itself. The emotions that come with grief from tragic loss can feel out of control, foreign and unforgiving. Just know that they, like a storm at sea, will pass. The confusion and overwhelm are the most intense at the time closest to the death. You won’t always think rationally, and it may be very emotional for you for a while. It won’t always be like that. Time will help calm, at least some, of the storm.

I read once that you shouldn’t try to get over the loss but learn to live with it. That means accepting it first and then allowing it into your experience, your memories, your feelings, and your way to being in the world. It means leaning into, not avoiding, the empty space where your loved one held as a place in your life. It means being ok with the fact you are suffering. That you have lots of unanswered questions, or you don’t know how to traverse this new terrain. It’s ok. It’s not easy to do. Being with deep grief is hard. And it can be exhausting. Be patient with yourself.

The confusion simply means you are adapting to something major in your life. And that is very normal. This is when self-love, caring for yourself, mindfulness and compassion can help assist you. They can be your guideposts. They are like life-jackets, ready to wear as simple techniques to help get you through those moments. Try to sleep, try to eat, try to rest, take deep breaths, let things be sometimes, cry out when you need to, or have a good long cry. Take walks, write in a journal, go to mass, or do your spiritual practice. Accept the unknowing. Surrender to the confusion and the pain.

We were naturally designed to talk and tell stories, that’s why coaching and counseling work so well as modalities. Find someone to share your grief, fears, and questions with. This is sacred space, not just for a passing conversation or acquaintance. This is a special journey you are on. Finding someone to share the stories and problems with is an organic form of healing. You want those that will listen to your stories and help in ways that benefit your well-being. Grieving alone is very common, and there will be time for that, but for the heavy questions and concerns, find someone to talk to.

It’s also important to ask for help if you feel like things aren’t getting better or you can’t function. And it is important to talk to a professional immediately if you feel like you want to end your life. This can be a very existential journey, but you dying in the middle of it is not what this is about. Coping, learning, and growing is where you are at right now and you may need help with that. There is nothing wrong with that. This is an intense journey. And I’ll say it again, it won’t always be like this.

This is truly when things take time and patience is helpful. While in the midst of this storm, even though you may not be able to feel or see it, the skies are starting to clear, and the storm will eventually let up. You just need to hold on. And keep holding on.

Below are some resources:

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