The tragic circumstances in Tunisia
Those finding themselves in direct contact with,or supporting the loved ones and families of the deceased ;
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The experience of a sudden unexpected death impacts in a very different way to the experience of expected death, where to some extent there may be some degree of emotional / mental,preparation. Although there are similarities of grief, recognisable reactions, the circumstances of how the loved one died will impact and affect the grieving.If you are a support worker ,hopefully you can reassure those who have been bereaved that they are not going mad or losing their mind. Bizarre and irrational thoughts at this time are usual and many people in the same situation feel like that. The story of the death, what happened? How it happened? Where did it happen? How much suffering was caused and experienced by the loved one? These are the main areas that the families of those who died a sudden death will explore, often in isolation and in those lonely hours. Lying awake, through the night, trying to piece together parts of all that has happened, and those bits that they cannot remember, or recall. There are often fantasies about the loved ones death and added fantasy of the loved one surviving.
“I often think about my husband’s last moments, I try not to but I can’t get my mind away from it .Sometimes he is calling for me , he is in need and I’m not there sometimes I work at trying to put myself there with him and I fantasise about all of the things I’d do to help him . Sometimes I fantasise that I rescue him. I dream about him calling me too. The reality is he died alone on a roadside and though they say they think his death was instant I know he must have felt something ……..had thoughts and it tortures me”
It is normal to need to keep going over the details. Many people have told me that they find it difficult to talk about their thoughts and feelings for several reasons:
They don’t want to be a nuisance.
The things they want to say are too horrific, or may be thought of as morbid.
Others may think they are losing their minds.
They think that they ought to be getting on, getting over it.
They must protect their remaining loved ones.
Where the death has been caused by disaster or terrorist attack, or where there are several deaths of unrelated persons, the bereaved are often carried along on a wave of public attention and the camaraderie of group and organised care, which in the immediate aftermath provide support and comfort. At this time however the families are in shock. They may seem fully involved and participating, but it is afterwards that the sense of belonging fades. The group disperses; they go to their separate homes and to reality. Then their real feelings emerge. These emotions can be diverse, changing direction from one moment to the next .
“I regret talking to the press ……I feel like it’s not my story any more it’s everyone’s ….people I don’t know things about me .To them I’m just news.”
The vulnerability of the bereaved and of those who are in trauma and shock is often exploited .They have the deep need, a driving force to keep telling the story of what happened, over and over again in an attempt to make sense of it, to work it through, put it together …get the whole picture .This exposure can leave them with overwhelming feelings of exploitation and lack of ownership, of the story of their loved ones death. I feel cheated that my husband is a number.
“I feel cheated that his death is part of a huge death it’s lost amidst the event .Does this sound selfish? In some ways I gain comfort from other families – they know how it is but sometimes I just want to stand up and shout his name and tell the world this is who died.” “The difference is the world will go on, they talk in public speeches about bravery ……they call my husband a hero. I feel angry that it’s all so public and that they will move on but I can’t things will never ever be the same.”
The observation of public of death through disaster or human act, the leaving of flowers and sending of cards and letters, the grouping and get together, is short lived and in a few months the families are left with the reality of life without their loved one and sometimes the feeling of being forgotten by people who had surrounded them and seem to care about them only a short while ago.
In some circumstances the family/ loved one may be present at the death.Today with media attention we may all be witness to a traumatic event as it unfolds on our televisions and media software, in our own environments.We must be aware of the impact of vicarious trauma,of our own reactions to tragic events and to some extent to the desensitising of our human reaction.
The trauma of observing or being part of the horror causes those immediately involved further distress, panic, uselessness, anxiety .Surviving a crash or event where others including loved ones have died can be the cause of tremendous guilt, powerlessness and self-blame.
In some circumstances family may be present but restricted by emergency services, or medical staff, from being with their loved one and in time the memory of this will also cause distress. There may be many reasons why family may not be allowed immediate access to their loved one .Sometimes the reasons are practical or for safety, or legal reasons i.e. scene of a crime , sometimes it may be deemed by the ‘professionals’ involved to be just too distressing ,or awful for the family to witness.I have written much about the importance of offering the family choices. Of keeping information truthful and of offering it without drama or effect. Such considerations as using simple words and not medical or legal jargon, writing down information and offering and providing opportunities for the bereaved to request information as they wish – all ways of helping them to absorb the circumstances of their loved ones death .People have told me that they were given information verbally but couldn’t recall it and didn’t like to keep asking for repetition as they didn’t want to be a nuisance. In the circumstances of murder the body will be held as evidence and may not be immediately released to the family .
Families may find official procedures bewildering, restricting and confusing. The importance of Police liaison or other supportive agency at this time cannot be underestimated.
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