The sudden and violent death of a loved one or friend is an incalculable loss. It brings trauma and pain that hits at the core of our being. The added layers of societal insensitivity, along with the stark nature of the justice system processes, means many survivors face emotional, physical and financial challenges that can be invisible to many who haven’t been through the horror of murder.
As coping with the death of a loved one is for a lifetime, many survivors have found that seeking support and counsel is crucial to their long-term well-being, along with the resources from a Victim Advocate - 928.679.7770.
The grief process is often very different from an expected or anticipated death. Homicide, suicide, or exceptionally tragic events can cause reactions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on the part of survivors and family members. Sudden loss or death creates special problems for the survivors. Many of these problems compound the grief response.
The grief response following sudden loss is often intensified since there is little to no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say goodbye, finish unfinished business or prepare for bereavement. Families and friends are suddenly forced to face the loss of a loved one instantaneously and without warning. This type of loss can generate intense grief responses such as shock, anger, guilt, sudden depression, despair and hopelessness.
A sudden tragic event shatters our sense of order and thrusts us into a world forever changed. Survivors of sudden loss may experience a greater sense of vulnerability and heightened anxiety. The safe world we once knew no longer exists. We fear for ourselves, our family and friends. Survivors can become overwhelmingly preoccupied with thoughts that such a random act of violence might happen again.
Along with the primary loss of the person, families and loved ones may experience concurrent crises and multiple secondary losses: lost income, loss of home, loss of social status. The role the loved one held in the family is gone.
Additional problems arise if the grieving survivor was involved with the disaster or was physically injured. Memories of the accident or the disaster may dominate the person's mind. They may be taken up with feelings of numbness, unreality and fear. The bereaved person may suffer from "survivor guilt," wondering why they survived when others have died and believing they could have or should have done more to prevent the tragedy.
The reaction to sudden deaths can be further complicated if the death is due to a violent act. If there is a trial, the grieving process may be unduly prolonged, stretching out to the time it takes for the trial. It may be particularly difficult on the family if the killer of their loved one has not been caught or goes unpunished.
In public or particularly newsworthy events, survivors may also have to deal with intrusion by the media. As we well know the media can become an additional pain source—not respecting the families privacy, replaying tragic events—such as the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle or the planes crashing into the World Trade Towers—over and over again. With criminal incidents, families and survivors must deal with the police, investigators and lawyers.
Since the death was not anticipated, the deceased may have left unfinished business, which the surviving family members may need to handle. These may be domestic concerns but could equally be work-related or legal matters. Legal and financial affairs following certain types of death e.g. suicide, deaths in which the body is never recovered, may be complex.
The search for meaning of the loss can challenge a survivors religious and spiritual beliefs. Sudden losses in particular can precipitate an existential crisis as the survivor searches for meaning. They start questioning their internal belief system and values. Goals, plans and purchases which were important the week prior to the event, abruptly seem trivial in comparison. Survivors are forced to look at and re-evaluate life priorities.
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