Not just grief: The trauma of losing a beloved in a 'senseless' death

Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 05 2017 06:18 PM

MANILA - More than just grief, families who lose their beloved in unexpected circumstances, especially those that involve violence, experience trauma, a psychologist said Monday.

This important fact must be acknowledged not only by the people around the bereaved, but the family members themselves, according to psychologist Dr. Honey Carandang.

"First, I think is to make people know that that (trauma) happens to anyone," she said in an interview with ANC's Headstart.

"If you’re aware na ganito ang nangyayari, hindi mo maiisip na ‘There’s something wrong with me.’ Kasi ang karamihan, ‘Am I going crazy? Bakit ganito? Pabalik-balik na lang yung mukha ng tao, yung event? Baka sira na ang ulo ko’," she added.

Trauma, she explained, has three manifestations which may come altogether or one by one, but will ultimately hinder the person from functioning normally. 

1. Body on "red alert"

After a traumatic incident, the human body puts up its "biological defenses," making the person hypervigilant or overly sensitive to movements, noises, etc.

2. "Intrusions"

Apart from the automatic physiological restlessness, trauma victims also experience "intrusions," where images of the traumatic incident suddenly flash back to his/her memory.

This, said Carandang, may be in the form of nightmares or image flashes.

"Kung minsan, hindi ka maka-function, 'di ka makatulog kasi papasok siya, parang they have a life of their own, yung images. Almost everyone has experienced that kind of trauma," said Carandang.

3. Denial

While the vernacular definition of denial is said to be a general declaration of something to be untrue, Carandang explained that trauma victims actually have to "naturally" numb themselves, and it may include "disbelief" in the beginning, with the victim refusing to acknowledge the traumatic event.

"Our body has wisdom in the sense na hindi niya ipaparamdam at bibigyan niya ng defense yung human being so that hindi niya maramdaman yung tindi and yung intensity ng pain because it can drive you crazy or it can be too overwhelming for your system," she said.

"So, sa umpisa siguro, may kaunting denial para hindi ka biglang ma-assault nung pain, which you may not be able to handle and you may literally die—a heart attack or something. In the beginning, that’s necessary because the pain is too overwhelming and intolerable for the system," she added.

Carandang said families who lost their beloved in recent events, such as in Resorts World, the London terror attacks, or even the ongoing war in Marawi City in Lanao del Sur, must first be comforted that these deaths are indeed "senseless," and that the bereaved may not be able to make sense of it.

She said, while talking to a friend or a relative may aid in comforting them, it's always advisable to seek the help of a professional, who can offer "deep listening," where one would not have to hear that he/she is at fault.

"It's not your fault, but you will experience all these pain and guilt, and what if--but that's just something you go through. It will help to go through it," she said.