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Dealing with Traumatic Grief after Husband Dies Suddenly and Inexplicably

24 Jun

Dear Belleruth,

My husband died of a massive heart attack in Iraq at the end of December. We just received the autopsy results last week, after waiting that long....

I tried once to go to a grief support group, but was the only one that showed up (I live in the wilderness)….

I have 3 of your CD's... but have found that my mind wanders so much, that I hesitated to get the Ease Grief one, since I cannot seem to keep my mind on anything for longer than 3 minutes.  

Any suggestions?

Dina H.

Dear Dina,

I’m so sorry about your husband.  Please accept my condolences and those of the entire staff here.
 
It’s fairly typical for someone suffering from grief – any kind of profound loss, but especially one that is sudden and traumatic – to be agitated, distracted, sleep-deprived, numb, irritable and suffering from poor concentration. 

In large part, this is a biophysical phenomenon, generated by all the stress hormones flooding your body. You’re basically in an adrenergized alarm state, and it could last a while. Many bereaved people don’t get back to normal sleeping patterns for months – and for some, it can be 2 or more years. It’s just the human response to unspeakable loss – we go into basic, survival mode.

Your loss is further complicated by the fact that you didn’t find out what happened to him and why he died for three months. That left you in a state of animated suspension for a painfully long time and interfered with your psychological ability to even begin the slow process of healing.

So, I guess my first suggestion is to be tolerant of your poor concentration, try to work around it in a realistic way, (write a lot of reminder notes to yourself!), and forgive your foggy mind.  This too shall pass…. but probably not as soon as you would like.

The Grief imagery is designed to help you de-numb and get in touch with all the feelings around this loss, both the painful ones and the loving, nourishing ones.  You may not be ready to settle down into yourself and feel this yet.  The ironic truth is, of course, that the more you can breathe into all that pain without fighting it, the stronger and less distracted you will become.

But you can’t push this on yourself – always, the rule of thumb is to respect your own internal time-table and state of emotional readiness.  At some point this imagery is very likely to be useful to you.  And this is true even if your relationship wasn’t all sweetness and light.  (What relationship ever is?).  

The other imagery that might be useful is the PTS imagery – this does qualify as a traumatic event, certainly, and you’re dealing with the  numbing fog of posttraumatic stress as well as grief.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you don’t have to concentrate well for guided imagery to work. It works its magic in the more primitive areas of the brain, not so much in the more “uptown” regions of cognition and language.

So go ahead and let your mind wander or even fall asleep, and the listening will still have a cumulative effect. This is why people with severe developmental disabilities and dementia can use it well, too. So, poor concentration isn’t a good reason not to use the Grief imagery. A need to avoid your painful feelings is more likely the reason for you to delay.

Another thing I would suggest is getting a weekly therapeutic massage if you possibly can.  This may be the most effective way you can give your mind and body some relaxation and respite from the perpetual alarm state you’ve been experiencing.  And that could be crucial for your health.

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award