V. Dealing with grief & trauma

If the incident caused you to fear for your life or that of your loved one, your coping mechanisms may become overwhelmed. Emotional responses of helplessness, intense fear and horror may be triggered resulting in trauma. Trauma has the capacity to change the way you view the world. You may feel more vulnerable and have difficulty adjusting. Trauma leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no “back to the old me.” You are permanently changed as a result of what has happened.

Victims may experience:

  • Difficulty sleeping;
  • Irritability and anger outbursts;
  • Hyper vigilance and anxiety;
  • Poor concentration;
  • Easily startled and exaggerated response;
  • Re-experiencing the event in dreams, memories and flashbacks;
  • Fear;
  • Anger at the individual and the system for not protecting you and/or your loved ones;
  • Feelings of being detached, numb; and/or
  • Feelings of guilt or shame.

Trauma changes your perception of the world and can result in losing your ability to trust. If you feel overwhelmed, need someone to talk to, or feel you need assistance coping with what has happened, it may be a good idea to seek the help of a qualified counsellor or healthcare professional. Sometimes people will try to self-medicate and/or use drugs or alcohol; this can further negatively complicate their experiences.

For some victims, grief goes hand-in-hand with trauma; the feeling that something important to you is gone forever, and that life can never really return to how it was before the crime. Grief can last for quite a long time. Sometimes grief is so powerful and overwhelming that you may feel incapacitated and unable to function mentally and physically.

You can feel grief over any situation, not just the loss of a loved one, but the loss of innocence, the loss of personal freedom, even the loss of trust in the goodness of humanity. You may grieve the person you used to be before the incident.

The dynamics of your relationship with the patient may complicate feelings of grief. This is especially true for those who wish to continue their relationship with the patient, and want to help them recover. Many family members understand that severe mental illness can be treated with medication and support. Your relationship with them will likely have changed, and it is very normal to grieve the loss of the relationship that you once had.

It is okay to grieve. It is necessary to grieve. It is important to have both moments of solitude and moments surrounded by social supports when grieving. Talking about your feelings with compassionate friends or family members will allow you to work through the grief and also to remember the person who has died.

Carol’s story

My 22 year-old son was sleeping on the bus he had been traveling on for over 20 hours when a passenger beside him attacked and killed him. My son’s body was desecrated. I was told of the possible NCR finding but had no idea what that meant. I feel that an individual who doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong should never be released – ever. We hear all about “his remarkable, better than expected recovery” at his annual Review Board hearing. While he’s in care, he’s not a concern: it’s after release that worries me. In my province, the hearings are not held at the hospital but at the law courts building. It is hard to hear the proceedings very well. What was not made clear to me by victim services or other criminal justice staff is that the accused/patient/killer retains the ultimate decision after he is released about whether to treat his mental illness with medication or not – he cannot be forced.

My name is Donna McCully.

It was always our wish to live in Jamaica in our dream home. So, in August 2012, my husband Sedrick Levine and I left Canada to move into our new home. We were thrilled to finally be starting the next chapter in our lives, in Sedrick’s beloved homeland. He bought a little bus and planned to operate tours for visitors to the island. I was helping him run this business venture, as part of our semi- retirement in Jamaica.

My life as I knew it was suddenly shattered when two masked men broke into our home on Sunday, November 17, 2013. Sedrick struggled with the men, allowing me to flee upstairs to call the police. His actions saved my life that day, and that of my father and his housekeeper, who were visiting us at the time. One of the masked intruders chased me upstairs and kicked in the bathroom door, but he stopped when he heard a gunshot from downstairs.

My husband Sedrick was killed that day and the men fled our home with a laptop. The Jamaican police have not yet found these men or charged them with killing my beloved husband. Their motive remains unknown.

This crime has completely changed my life. I suffer from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder now and have depression as a result. I came back to Canada, but I feel very isolated since this happened. These emotional scars may never heal.

I managed to find the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime by searching online one day. I didn’t know where to turn for help when I came home to Canada. The CRCVC has provided me with a lot of emotional support, which has been tremendously helpful. They’ve also written numerous letters to Jamaican officials seeking justice for Sedrick, as well as intervening with Canadian officials on my behalf. The office also helped connect me to a trauma therapist for counselling sessions too.

In order to try and make sense of what happened to Sedrick, it is my hope that others could support the work of the Canadian Resource Centre for Victims of Crime. There are so many other victims/survivors out there who also need their assistance.