Traumatic Loss Across the Life Span

Because of the nature of substance impaired driving crashes, MADD Mid-Atlantic’s contact and work with victims means that we are never sure what our cases are going to look like. For us, there is no typical case. The only aspects that the cases have in common is that; 1) they have nothing in common; and 2) they were 100% preventable. Because there is no typical victim profile, our Victim Services Team has become adept at working with people from all backgrounds. In addition, we are aware of the various ways traumatic loss could be experienced by everyone from children, to seniors. No loss occurs in a bubble. Everyone is part of a family, a school, a community, etc., and they are pulling from support from a variety of people in their lives. It’s important to recognize that trauma can present very differently across the life span.

For example, trauma in childhood is terribly common. The impact of child traumatic stress can last well beyond one’s early years and is a risk factor for nearly all behavior health and substance use disorders.  For young kids, many are very sensitive to things not being right in their world, even if they don’t have the words to describe their thoughts and feelings. After a loss, adolescents are prone to overgeneralizing and emotional reasoning (i.e., “if I feel it, it must be true”). Give teens space while understanding that it’s totally normal for them to post or share details on social media, but suddenly go mute when Mom or Dad comes around. Space and patience will be key. While it’s a challenge, there is hope. Children can and do recover from traumatic events. Grief professionals, families and others in the community can play an important role in their recovery by providing a supportive, holistic system, that is trauma informed. At MADD, we remind caregivers that when they are overwhelmed, or feel that they don’t have the answers, it’s okay to seek help.

For adults who have experienced a traumatic loss, self-care is not just a, ‘would-be-nice,’ it’s a necessity.  Many of us are part of the sandwich generation, which means, we may take care of older family members, as well as younger children or siblings.  Simple time-outs that include prioritizing eating, sleeping and seeking out emotional support from friends, a grief counselor or a spiritual advisor will be vital to aid healing. Keep in mind that elders in the family have also had to process their share of losses as well. Unfortunately, sudden loss tends to impact seniors in a way that is detrimental to their health. Research shows that seniors who have experienced trauma, or have PTSD, have higher rates of cardiovascular diseases and related risk factors or common medical conditions. Some retirees tend to have more time and fewer things to keep them busy, and thus, they’re more likely to think back on memories.  A senior’s grief may not be recognized by those around them, but they are entitled to their feelings and may need to hear that from others in their life.

For more information on grief symptoms across the life span, please reach out to MADD Mid-Atlantic Victim Services at 410.964.5757.