Friday, February 15, 2008

Coping with Sudden Death - A Series of Recent School Shootings

In the past few weeks we've seen another series of school shootings in California, Florida and now in Illinois. Friends, Family, Schools are left trying to figure out how to help the survivors cope with these sudden traumatic losses.

The Sudden Death Shatters Our World in an Instant

A sudden death is one that occurs without any forewarning; it is unanticipated.

A traumatic death, in addition to being sudden, can also be violent, mutilating or destructive; the traumatic death can be random and/or preventable or may involve many deaths.

The sudden, accidental, unexpected or traumatic death shatters the world as we know it. It is often a loss that does not make any sense.

In an instance life is forever changed. Survivors (those left behind) are left with the knowledge that life is not always fair and that sometimes bad things happen to good people. The sudden, traumatic death leaves the survivors feeling shaken, unsure and vulnerable.

Each type of sudden loss, whether a shooting, a heart attack, a car accident or a terrorist attack, leaves survivors bereaved, dazed and vulnerable trying to make sense out of the insensible loss. As survivors of sudden or traumatic death begin to process the loss, they experience a grief response.

After a Sudden Loss - Focus on the Basics

When facing the aftermath of a sudden death, it is important for the survivor to take care of him/herself following a sudden loss by focusing on the basics the body needs for day-to-day survival:
  • Maintain a normal routine. Even if it is difficult to do regular activities, try to anyway.
  • Putting more structure into a daily routine will help one to feel more in control.
  • Get enough sleep, at least plenty of rest.
  • It may be helpful to keep lists, write notes, or keep a schedule.
  • Try and get some regular exercise. This can help relieve stress and tension.
  • Keep a balanced diet. Watch out for junk food, or high calorie comfort food binges.
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation. Alcohol should not be used as a way of masking the pain.
  • Do what comforts, sustains and recharges you.
  • Remember other difficult times and how you have survived them. Draw upon the inner strength.
  • Take it one hour at a time, one day at a time.
The Unanswerable Whys

Following a traumatic death or sudden loss, people are left wondering "Why?" It is difficult to find a good answer to this unanswerable question.

When faced with the unanswerable “Why” in the past, I have found the thoughts of Rabbi Earl Grollman on this topic to be very helpful in coping with this most difficult question. He says:

“Why must life be one of sorrow?” “Why?” There are no pat answers. No one completely understands the mysteries of life. Even if the question were answered, would your pain be eased?

There is no satisfactory response for an unresolvable dilemma. Not all questions have complete answers. “Unanswered Why's” are a part of life. The search may continue, but the real question might be “How [do I] pick up the pieces and go on living as meaningful as possible?”

Dyer KA. 2002. Dealing with Sudden, Accidental or Traumatic Death. Journey of Hearts.

Dyer KA. 2001. 9-11: United in Courage & Grief. Ways of Coping then Helping. Journey of Hearts.
Dyer KA. 2001. 9-11: United in Courage & Grief. Why does my heart Feel so bad? Journey of Hearts.
Grollman RA. Why? Journeys Newsletter. Washington D.C.: Hospice Foundation of America, March 2001, p. 3.

Image Source: Broken Egg. Modified Microsoft Image.