Chapter 1 What is traumatic grief?

Introduction

“This is the most intense place I have ever worked. Trauma is at the centre of everything we do with patients and families. We don’t get much training in this regard”. - ICU Spiritual Care Provider

Psychological Trauma, hereafter referred to as “trauma”, results from an incident that is seen to be both unavoidable and threatens the person with actual death, possible death, or serious injury to themselves or others. 

Grief is an emotional reaction to loss with accompanying psychological, cognitive, behavioural, and physical manifestations.

Grief and trauma tend to overlap substantially although there are important differences between them. Whereas grief tends to be linked to various forms of loss, trauma is often associated with a threat of dying. Trauma sometimes blocks the grieving process.

The bridge that links grief and psychological trauma is traumatic grief. Traumatic grief is when grief and mourning over a death are complicated or overpowered by the traumatic stress brought about by the particular circumstances of the death.

The nature of ICU care means that varying degrees of grief and trauma are common and normal experiences of families in an ICU.

In this chapter, you will discover more about grief and traumatic experiences, and their accompanying cognitive, emotional, behavioural, and physical expressions.