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Understanding and Working through Traumatic Loss

Although there is an element of trauma in almost all kinds of loss, certain deaths are more likely than others to be experienced as traumatic by surviving family members, and to lead to post-traumatic stress symptoms. 

There’s no one set definition of traumatic loss, but it’s generally considered a death that fits one or more of the following criteria:

  • The death occurs without any warning;

  • The death is untimely;

  • The death involved violence and/or was caused by someone with the intent to harm;

  • The death involved damage or mutilation of the loved one’s body;

  • The family believes that the death was preventable;

  • The death involved suffering.

In addition, factors like media attention, uncertainty about whether or not your loved one is alive (for example, if he or she is missing), or being blamed for the death can all increase the likelihood that you’ll experience the death of a loved one as traumatic.

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