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Traumatic Grief

Traumatic Grief


When someone we love dies, the emotional and physical reaction that follows is called grief.  Grief is a natural process that usually evolves over time (see grief pages for more information).  Sometimes, however, the grief reaction can become problematic.


Complicated or traumatic grief can arise when the circumstances of the death have been sudden, gruesome, or particularly traumatic.  Complicated or traumatic grief responses can also occur following a long illness due to the prolonged effect of watching helplessly as your loved one suffered. 


However, there are no rules as to what constitutes a traumatic bereavement. What tends to make the grief reaction more problematic is avoidance of the painful processing of grief, which can lead to the grief becoming ‘stuck’, resulting in symptoms of trauma similar to those already discussed on the trauma pages: flashbacks, severe anxiety, avoidance of reminders, reduction in functioning and/or dissociation.


A special word goes to bereavement experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic


During the global coronavirus pandemic we faced a tragic loss of life, often under unimaginable circumstances.


If you have lost someone you love during Covid-19, you may have experienced any or more of the following extraordinarily painful experiences:


The person you love dying alone, due to infection control measures; with you and others close to you not being allowed to say goodbye.


The illness progressing suddenly with sudden deterioration. This would be tremendously shocking and if you are not able to view your loved one’s body, you may not be able to accept the finality and process the reality of their death.


Not being able to grieve with family and friends collectively & to physically offer each other comfort and support.


Being unable to arrange a funeral that can be attended by all loved ones, to acknowledge the finality of your loved one’s death and to offer comfort, love and commemoration to one another.


The constant sense of threat from the virus itself - no safe shelter “Who will be next”.


Constant reminders and intrusion arising from constant media coverage.

Although we are no longer in the grip of the pandemic, I have deliberately kept this information as the aftershock is likely to be felt for years after the pandemic subsides.

It would make sense that grief during the Covid-19 crisis could be considered traumatic grief.  Therefore, the grieving process may not follow the ‘usual’ path. If this is the case, this does not mean that there is something wrong with you, so please be compassionate with yourself and others around you who may also be suffering in this way. What it does mean is that your grief may need to be processed in different ways, and may unfortunately take a longer and more winding path.


If you think that you may be experiencing a complicated or traumatic grief reaction then you may benefit from trauma focused  bereavement therapy, to help you to work through your reaction to the bereavement. It may also be beneficial to speak to your GP.  


You will find organisations to support your grief on the Grief pages.


Nicola Forshaw holds a Masters Degree in Counselling (with distinction), a diploma in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and a certificate in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.  Nicola is a highly experienced trauma/PTSD therapist, with a special interest in traumatic grief, and is and is fully qualified in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). She is accredited by BACP (British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy), and is also a registered member.

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