Traumatic Death

I once met a widow who lost one husband suddenly and another after a long illness. She readily admitted that both experiences were excruciatingly painful, yet also had some distinct differences. Others agree. When death is anticipated, we generally enter the grief process earlier and have time to reach out and try to repair any breaks in the relationship. We also may have a chance to say good-bye…. When death is sudden and traumatic, however, we have no time to prepare, so our shock and other reactions tend to be more intense.

Early in the journey, we may go back and forth from disbelief—this is a terrifying nightmare—to being hit hard with the reality of the death. Our grief may include flashbacks of what we saw, if we were at the scene of the death, or of what we imagine happened, if we were not. 

As the reality of our loss settles in, our emotional responses may intensify. If our loved one died by suicide, we might feel angry and even enraged that they ended their life. In our sorrow, we may have a deep longing for more time with them, as well as sadness for the despair that tormented them. Our stomach and neck may be tight with anxiety, as we wonder who else in our world is feeling hopeless and considering suicide. We also are apt to try ourselves in the courtroom of our mind. If so, we owe it to ourselves to make it a fair trial. Rather than just accusing ourselves with our regrets and perceived failures, we also need to cite the evidence of how we expressed love for the one who died. We ought to avoid judging ourselves and others harshly, realizing that, for reasons unknown to anyone else, at the moment the person ended their life they saw no other way out of their pain. It is not our fault.[i]

Yet, as is true for all grief journeys, after a traumatic death, it is vital to find healthy ways to express any of these and other normal responses. Talking to family members, friends, a pastor, a counselor, or in a grief support group can help us work through our pain and find healing. We may need to retell, over and over again, the story of how we first heard about the death. While a death might happen suddenly, our healing takes extended time, conscious effort, and patience with ourselves and others.

[i] For more information about suicide loss, see John Jordan and John McIntosh’s Grief After Suicide: Understanding the Consequences and Caring for the Survivors (New York City: Routledge Imprint, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011).

This condensed excerpt is from Doses of Comfort, available in print and on Kindle at


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Lasting Impact

His tragic death certainly did not quench the impact of his life.  After more than four decades, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words still echo as we pause to celebrate his life and legacy. Each January we commemorate the ways King actively loved God and people by peacefully working for justice and equality. And we remember that we, too, can make a difference in this world.

King lived only 39 years. Some of our own friends and family members may have died younger; others, much older.  How has each one impacted our lives?  Did they live lives we hope to emulate, or did they chose paths we hope to avoid? 

As we remember King this month, and our loved ones throughout the year, we can find healing and help rebuild our lives as we consider their lasting legacy and as we seek to fulfill our own purpose on this earth.

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Happy Holidays?

Anna knew there was no way around that first holiday season without her husband, so she determined to get through it by being intentional. Some family traditions were maintained; others were put aside, at least for that year. Instead of their typical trip to the Christmas tree lot, she drove her children to the mountains to cut down a tree and play in the snow. When they got it home, the eldest son stepped into Dad’s role of putting on the lights and all the children decorated it. The children insisted on including Dad’s special ornaments. On Christmas Eve, they again broke tradition. Instead of gathering with family, they went to the Christmas Eve service at church, and then out to eat. Being intentional and preparing for the holidays helped reduce Anna and her family’s stress and manage their grief.

Becky’s father had died three months before Christmas, and her mother’s health was failing. She had hoped that her siblings could set aside long-standing differences and celebrate the holidays together. Other family did not feel the same way, so Becky consciously chose to lower her expectations. She moved beyond her disappointment and found freedom in focusing on enjoying her husband, adult children, and mother.

Depending on your situation, consider the following holiday suggestions:

  • Evaluate your traditional “to do” list, which might include decorating, baking, shopping, sending Christmas cards, and/or entertaining. Ask yourself, What can I skip this year? What would I like to revise for at least this season? Which traditions do I most want to include this year? Who could I ask to help me?
  • Permit yourself to change your mind about attending a holiday celebration or to leave early if a surge of grief You may wish to write an explanatory note ahead of time, which you can leave on the counter or give to your host as you excuse yourself.
  • Give yourself the gift of TLC. Listen to your body and meet your needs for rest, refreshment, nutrition, and nurture. Also give yourself time to release your emotions through tears, talking, journaling, exercising, looking at photos, or engaging in other healing activities.
  • Remember your loved one by giving a gift in their memory; buying a special ornament; hanging a Christmas stocking for written memories or expressions of love; and/or lighting a memorial candle, which you might place by a framed photo.

Planning ahead and taking care of yourself can help you find comfort—and even joy—during the holidays.

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, which contains further suggestions for the holidays and throughout the year. Available in print ($5.49) or on Kindle at

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Losses Come in Various Shapes and Sizes

When we hear the word “grief,” we usually think of the pain experienced after someone we care about dies. Yet we probably can name other losses and changes in our lives and relationships that have caused us to grieve. For example, since my brother’s divorce, I miss seeing his ex-wife at family gatherings. When my husband’s new job meant moving to another state, I grieved the changes in my friendships with neighbors. We no longer could share our hearts on morning walks or load all our kids into one of our minivans to take them on an outing.

We also can experience loss when we or our friends leave our workplace, organization, school, or religious community. Even if it was our decision, we may find ourselves grieving the relationships and the part of our identity left behind. While we might keep in touch through social media, texting and phone calls, we miss the intimacy of face-to-face interaction and the bond of a shared purpose.

Other sources of grief include infertility, physical ailments, disabilities, or financial challenges, which may dash our hopes and dreams. Unemployment, natural disasters, or betrayals can steal our sense of security. Even celebrated changes, such as graduations, promotions, and marriages, can include elements of loss, as the ushering in of a new season means the conclusion of a previous one.

Whatever the source or depth of our pain, our healing begins with acknowledging any losses and finding productive ways to express our feelings. Then we can begin to adjust and, down the road, even recognize and consider new opportunities resulting from the changes in our lives.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

List the various losses that you have experienced during your lifetime, including moves, betrayals, divorces, unemployment, physical ailments, and other changes that have caused some degree of grief. Underline, circle, or put a star by the ones that have been the most painful. Can you identify ways that you’ve healed from and grown through your previous losses? What helped you through the process? If your pain has not diminished, consider reading and applying the principles of Doses of Comfort to your previous losses, as well as to your more recent ones.

Excerpt from Doses of Comfort, available on Kindle and in print at


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Write Way to Heal and Rebuild

While there’s not a “right” way to mourn and rebuild, one effective method is to write down our thoughts and feelings. Journaling can be a safe avenue for expressing our anger, admitting our fears, and working through our pain. The act of putting words on paper or on our computer can help us identify and process the various grief responses that may be churning inside us. In black and white, they generally become more manageable and productive.

In addition to helping harness the power of thoughts and feelings, writing can be a means of contemplating our future. We can brainstorm options for rebuilding our life. Does our loss necessitate a job change or move? We can list the possibilities. If we’ve been caring for a loved one, which interests or relationships have we put on hold? Do we want to revisit any past hobbies or endeavors? Which new interests could we pursue? Perhaps we’d like to learn a new language, try oil painting, or run in a 5K.

Another healing strategy is writing a letter to the deceased. Even though we cannot send it to them, the act of conveying any regrets, anger, longing, and other responses to loss can bring healing in our own life.  If our relationship ended with unfinished business, we can apologize for our actions and express forgiveness for wrongs we suffered. In addition, we may find it freeing to share our plans for reinvesting in life, including our hesitations as well as our hopes. Of course, letters also can be a way to thank them for cherished memories and articulate the love that still fills our heart.

Whether we keep our written expressions private; disclose them to someone we trust; or read them to God, the act of writing down our thoughts, feelings, and options for the future can promote healing. Doing so can be a constructive step toward rebuilding our life without our loved one.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

If you have not already done so, consider buying an attractive journal in which to write your thoughts, feelings, and hopes for your future, or start a confidential computer file. Later you may want to share some or all of what you write but, for now, keep it private so you can write freely, without fear of being criticized or misunderstood. If anything you write alarms you, however, or if you feel overwhelmed with emotion or troubling thoughts, reach out to a friend, pastor, or professional counselor. 

Excerpted from Doses of Comfort, available in print and Kindle at

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When Waves of Grief Hit

Not only do we grieve various kinds of losses, but any of those losses may resurface our grief for a loved one who died in the past. For example, moving may trigger our grief for the one who shared that house with us for many years. If our dog dies, we may find ourselves grieving not only the pet, but also the family member who brought him home and cared for him. Even a seemingly unrelated loss may remind us of a loved one we have mourned.

We also can experience waves of grief around holidays and other special occasions. On Mother’s Day weekend, a surge may hit those without a mother and moms who have lost a child. As we anticipate or celebrate family weddings, graduations, and birthdays, we may find ourselves longing for those who are missing. If our relationship included certain activities, such as watching baseball, going fishing, eating out, or shopping together, then grief may strike as we cheer on a home run or visit the mall.

Sometimes waves crash upon us seemingly out of the blue. Several months after our infant son Darren died, I suddenly started to cry when I saw a helicopter. I hadn’t even witnessed the hospital staff airlift my hours-old son to a neonatal unit across town. Still, seeing the helicopter triggered that memory and my longing for him.

Surges of sorrow also may result from hearing another’s story or reading a book about grief, including this one. While conversations about loss may come at inconvenient times, we generally can plan when we will pick up a book. We can benefit from scheduling our reading when we can freely mourn.

Whenever grief hits, rather than trying to avoid or restrain the waves, we can choose to use them to help release our pain. We can allow the waves to help move us through our grief. If wave after wave is knocking us down and we fear drowning in our sorrow, however, it may be time to contact a qualified counselor or grief support group. Help is available.

Today’s Dose of Comfort

If you’re experiencing a wave of grief today, take a few moments to acknowledge your pain and embrace your memories. Then, just as swimmers are encouraged to use the buddy system, reach out to someone to assist you. Also take time to distract yourself from your loss.

Are you approaching a special day or activity? You might benefit from setting aside time to grieve (for further suggestions, see the Holidays and Other Special Days section at the end of this book). Also consider what you can do on that day to focus on loved ones who are still with you. If you suspect that a strong wave may hit you during a social event, prepare ahead of time by rehearsing what you’ll say to others or by writing a note explaining that you were not up for staying. Then, if you feel the need to leave early, hand the note to the hostess or an understanding friend or family member before you go.

Excerpt from Doses of Comfort, available in print and on Kindle at

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Doses of Comfort

During the grief journey, you may find it helpful to schedule in time devoted to acts of mourning. Consider it a “dose” of comfort–a time to intentionally focus your thoughts on your loss, explore your feelings, and work through your grief. During this time you can look at pictures, write in a journal, listen to music, pray, replay memories of your loved one, or simply allow yourself to cry. Choose something that releases some of your pain. Whenever possible, follow your “dose” with a nurturing or relaxing activity, such as taking a walk, meeting a friend for coffee, or escaping into a good book or movie. Taking time for mourning and for self-care promotes healing.

You can find further insights into grief and suggestions for healing in Doses of Comfort, which is now available for $2.99 on Kindle and $5.31 in print at amazon.comEach daily dose includes practical ideas for healing your heart and rebuilding your life after loss. 

front cover doses beach

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