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Your response to your loved one's injury: grief and loss

Just as our bodies can be traumatized, so can our minds. Trauma can affect your emotions and will to live. The effect may be so great that your usual ways of thinking and feeling may change. The ways you used to handle stress may no longer work.  Patients may have a delayed reaction to their trauma. In the hospital, they may focus on their physical recovery rather than on their emotions. As they face their recovery, they may have a range of feelings, from relief to intense anxiety. 

Family members also may go through a range of emotions between first hearing the news of the injury and on through the patient’s recovery. 

Trauma patients and their families often feel loss on some level. The loss may relate to changes in health, income, family routine or dreams for the future. Each person responds to these changes in their own way. Grief is a common response. When it does get better, it can delay recovery and add to family problems. Knowing the early signs of depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is important. 

Coping with loss

The stress that goes with trauma and grief can affect your health. It can also affect your decision making during the first several months after the trauma. It is important for you to try to eat well, sleep and exercise. If you have any long-term health problems, such as heart disease, be sure to stay in contact with your doctor. 

Part of recovery involves using the help of others. You can also find a support system. This can be a friend, family member, member of the clergy, support group, or another person who has experienced similar loss. Not everyone knows what to say or how to be helpful. Some people avoid those who have experienced a trauma in their family because it makes them uncomfortable. It may take some time to find friends or family who can be good listeners. 

When a patient dies

Few things in life are as painful as the death of a loved one. We all feel grief when we lose a loved one. Grief is also a very personal response. It can dominate one’s emotions for many months or years. For most people, the intensity of initial grief changes over time. It may take both time and help to move from suffering to a way of remembering and honoring the loved one. 

When is it a good idea to seek professional help?

Sometimes grief overwhelms us. This is when professional help is useful. You may need help if:

  • The grief is constant after about six months
  • If there are symptoms of PTSD or major depression
  • If your reaction interferes with daily life

Your doctor can help you identify local services available for support, including the Trauma Survivors Network.