In the Aftermath of Trauma

Many people in my hometown of Orlando, Florida are feeling the effects of trauma right now.  Some of them are victims or relatives of victims of the two shootings which occurred here in recent days.  Others are first responders, police, fire or ambulance personnel who witnessed the carnage or its aftereffects.  But others are experiencing symptoms of trauma at more of a distance – those called upon to counsel victims or first responders, relatives and friends of those involved, maybe even the community as a whole.  We are struggling to wrap our brains around the idea that such massive evil and bloodshed could occur in our midst.  We are shocked, frightened, grieving, trying to “fix it” or to escape. 

Of course there have also been some lovely examples of heroes and helpers giving blood, offering prayers, providing food and comfort.  This reminds us of our role as God’s children, entering the scene of tragedy as Jesus did to bring the hope of redemption. We cannot not lose sight of God’s goodness, but, at the same time, we should not use that truth to dismiss others’ pain, jumping too quickly to a hope that many cannot yet feel.

Part of the healing that needs to be done is to allow ourselves and others to talk, to grieve, to feel our own feelings, whatever they may be.  Be kind to yourself and others right now.  We won’t always feel this way, but part of moving forward is living in the present, acknowledging whatever may be, telling the stories and validating the pain.  To that end, I offer the following handout which you can download, print or copy for others.

Trauma Recovery Handout

May you struggle well and heal in God’s time.

Grieving God’s Way by Margaret Brownley

This devotional book receives my highest rating, even though I hate the title.  Any time you tell me you are doing something “God’s way” I get suspicious!  However, novelist Margaret Brownley has written so beautifully and helpfully on the topic of grief that I will forgive her this once.  Her words are filled with the poignant flavor of personal experience which she gained after the death of her eldest son.  It must be this personal quest toward God in the midst of suffering which makes such a profound impact.

This is a short book which can be read quickly and returned to many times over.  In addition to the 90 days of devotional readings, Ms. Brownley provides a wealth of practical advice and creative outlets for the pain of losing a loved one.  As she succinctly notes, “the needs to change, grow, seek and create are all signs of healing” (p. 195).  They are also means to healing, and there is no lack of helpful, hopeful opportunities here.  I have used some of her suggestions already in my counseling practice, and I would recommend it for the friends of those who grieve, too.   I will be buying multiple copies to give away, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you found yourself doing the same thing.

If you would like more information, visit Margaret Brownley’s website:

Grieving Many Losses

Dear Christian Counselor:

How do multiple deaths of loved ones impact the length of time grieving expands?  My mom is 73 and over the last 21 years she lost her father-in-law, mother, husband, brother-in-law, step-mother-in-law and niece.  The first three left us in the first four years.  As she never really had time to fully grieve each loss before the next one arrived, could her grief be compounded for a seemingly never-ending process?  I’m asking because I don’t want to “require” things from her which she isn’t able to produce because she is still grieving.

Years of Tears

Dear Years:

Grief is like a man walking away from home who turns to look back, and finding the sight so achingly beautiful, he cannot make himself return to the path.  A person who has experienced the kind of grief your mother has will always carry it with her, but if it is still the constant focus of her gaze after 21 years, then she is missing the life God has for her today.  In addition to the five “stages of grief” which Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross identified back in the 1960’s, a sixth step called hope is a key marker for recovery.  (We have a handout on this topic if you’d like to read more.)  Hope can be difficult to achieve for older adults who already feel that there is little ahead for them in this life.  And yet, every day has its own purpose for all God’s children.

Grieving is such an individual process that it is impossible to say what period of time is appropriate, but 21 years is certainly too long.  Your mother may be experiencing depression or something called “complicated grief.”  She probably needs some help and support to move forward.  Fortunately, there are many types of support available, such as social groups, support groups, short-term studies like GriefShare, and counselors who specialize in grief and bereavement.  Gently requiring more of her could be the catalyst your mother needs to see that something is wrong in her life and spirit.  Acknowledging that problem is the first step toward healing it. 

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