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.