How to grieve tragic death?


We are living in dangerous times when tragedy can strike at any moment and rick havoc in our lives. 

Images of terrorist bombings, wars, school shootings, accidents and natural disasters have become part of our daily news reports.

None of us is immune to tragedy; it can afflict any of us, although some might be at higher risk at of being affected by it, depending on their geographic location or occupation.

Nevertheless, when it strikes the effects are usually tragic especially the loss of our loved ones, a loss that cannot be replaced.

How can one cope with the mammoth challenge of overcoming the loss of a loved one through a tragedy?

Here are some recommendations that will be discussed in sequential order, since coping with tragedy is not an event but a process.

Each point will highlight a stage in the recovery process.

1. Coming to terms with the reality

After receiving the tragic news, it is only natural to be filled with mixed emotions of grief and disbelief especially if we are yet to confirm the reports ourselves.

But as time moves on you may be presented with the opportunity to do so, either by visiting the scene of the tragedy or visiting the morgue.

On the other hand, if you have to wait for longer periods to get such confirmation, it will only lead to the increase of your anxiety levels.

Therefore, you will require much emotional support from family and friends as you let others help you pursue the necessary details.

Coming to terms with the reality is an important first step we have to undergo in order to accept that it has indeed happened and progress to the next step which is grieving.

2. Allow yourself to express grief

When you have cleared any doubts regarding the circumstance of their demise, then you must allow yourselves to express grief.

Unlike terminally ill patients where their loved ones have had time to prepare mentally for their death, you may still be in shock and unable to comprehend why it has happened.

At this stage the most important thing for you is to find an outlet to your emotions.

Hence, do not be ashamed to cry when you feel the urge to; let the flood of tears flow freely.

Crying is a natural process which helps us relieve emotional stress instead of it building up in our bodies.

If this emotional stress is not eliminated from our bodies it can lead to adverse health and psychological problems such as severe depression, post-traumatic stress etc.

Another source of outlet is telling others how you feel.

Talking helps you unburden your feelings instead of suffering in silence.

If you like writing, you can also write your feelings down this might also work for you.

For example, while David McCullough was researching for the epic biography of John Adams who rose to become the second President of the United States, one of his sources of information was a collection of Adams family letters and diaries.

What did he discover about the first lady’s way of handling grief? He explains:

"When a friend of Abigail and John Adams was killed at Bunker Hill, Abigail's response was to write a letter to her husband and include these words, ‘My bursting heart must find vent at my pen".

Your grief intensity and duration will depend on you as an individual and the degree of attachment to the deceased.

Hence, no time period can be set for the mourning period, but through the comfort you will receive you will be able to pull through.

Where can one find this comfort?

That is the next point of discussion.

3. Finding comfort

You can find comfort from accepting help from others through their expressions, words, letters, prayers and material support.

Hence, avoiding isolating yourself during this trying period as comfort can only be gained by being surrounded by people who care about you.

Make allowance for some who may not have the right words to say to you, as the situation may be perplexing to them and this might be their way of showing their concern.

Your faith in God can also be a great source of comfort that all is not lost.

Your faith will supply you the much needed answers as to why bad things happen and instill in you the hope that you are going to see them again.

If you are going to take any medication to relieve some symptoms of grief, do so only under supervision of a doctor.

However, try as much as possible to get plenty of rest and eat a balanced diet to replenish the lost energy.

4. Healing the emotional wounds

A headstone in Ireland says:

 "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." 

Therefore unlike physical wounds, emotional wounds are very difficult to heal especially from a tragic loss through death.

This is because we cannot erase the memories of the moments we shared with them.

These memories may trigger unpredictable bouts of sadness and you may find yourself expressing grief when you recall certain aspects of your past life.

For example, you may come across certain items that they loved in the supermarket or hear their favorite song play on the radio and find yourself unable to contain your tears.

Don't feel embarrassed or guilty because of expressing such emotions, this is perfectly normal.

Therefore, be patient with yourself, don't expect to overcome these feelings in a few months; It may take years before you can master those feelings.

5. Moving on

After achieving same relative degree of emotional healing, we have to move on with life. Why?

Edward Kennedy who lost his two brothers, J. F Kennedy and Robert Kennedy tragically through assassinations says:

As you know so well, the passage of time never really heals the tragic memory of such a great loss, but we carry on, because we have to, because our loved one would want us to, and because there is still light to guide us in the world from the love they gave us."

So push yourself to begin returning to your normal routine and slowly everything will begin to fall back to its own place.

As your mind begins to be preoccupied with daily life affairs you will have less time to meditate on the painful experiences you have endured.

6. Source of Strength

There is a saying in Tibetan that tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength."

How can this be done?

Recently I watched a documentary which had a story of a mother who lost tragically her son after he consumed contaminated food.

After the initial stages of grief she later mastered the courage to become a food safety advocate to help prevent others from suffering the same predicament.

Although her work cannot bring her son back, it has given her a new sense of purpose or strength in life.

Even though your circumstances may differ from the above example, you can still find a way to turn the tragedy into more positive experience by striving to be a better person or helping others endure similar challenges.