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The "X" In The Box

Updated: Aug 26, 2022

The death is a traumatic death.

We know the death. It is the one that is unexpected and untimely. It is the one that rips a loved one from life. It is the one that snuffs out a life before that life even had a chance to begin. It is senseless. It is painful or violent and sudden. Whatever the cause, it is earth shattering. Traumatic death swoops in and rocks the earth beneath our feet. It sucks the air from our lungs. It makes our head spin.

On a death certificate there are three boxes. One is to be checked for the manner of death; natural, accidental, suicide. As a funeral director, on each death certificate, I saw the “x”. The manner of death was determined by the doctor or the coroner and a box was checked. Such a simple x in a box. One stroke of a key using the ring finger of the left hand. It doesn’t tell the story. It doesn’t comfort loved ones. It doesn’t reveal the depth of pain a family endures. It doesn’t explain to others the magnitude of despair. This “x” is shrouded in trauma.

The traumatic “x” elicits disbelief in others. We’ve all said it, “I can’t imagine what you are going through.”. It is the type of death that others have a hard time acknowledging. It is the type of death that no one can understand. For those living through a traumatic death, they would not wish the agonizing grief on their worst enemy. Traumatic grief is unimaginable and at times unbearable.

We can’t imagine it because we won’t allow ourselves to. Even the mere thought is too disturbing to us and we will not entertain the idea even in our imagination. The. Pain. Would. Be. Too Great…………..If this manner of death is too devastating for our minds, then how much greater the devastation for those living through it? Yet our society expects us to “get over it”, “look at the bright side”; we offer weak platitudes, “at least they didn’t suffer”, “he/she had a good life” or some other combination of words intending to comfort.

Let me say this plainly. There are NO WORDS that anyone can say that will take the pain away or lessen the pain of a traumatic death and the grief that follows. There are NO ACTS OF KINDNESS that will make things normal. With that being said however, we cannot let those who are suffering to do so alone. We can show empathy, compassion and good intention, but just know that their pain is still there. Our attempts at showing support are not about us and what we do. We are here to honor and hold space for them. We sit in silence when they don’t feel like talking. We hold them if they need a shoulder to cry on. We honor their wishes when they want to sit on the couch all day. We allow them space to stay in bed and weep. We accompany them if they ask to go to a crash sight (if we are invited). We make a casserole for the freezer. We listen as they ask why. We cry with them. We never judge their grief because there is no right or wrong way to grieve. We accept the anger and rage. We acknowledge the bitterness. We hear their rant toward God. We listen as they question their faith. We offer ourselves to them to do what they need us to do and to be what they need us to be. It is an honor to be invited into the grief of another.

Traumatic grief demands attention. Our whole self is turned inside out. Our heart is laid bare and our balance is shattered. Reality is that if we do not give this grief our attention it will become something even more toxic. Bitterness, hatred, and distrust could seep into our very soul. Instead of risking that, we must give ourselves time. Allow time to feel the pain, feel the upheaval and disorganization. Realize that the inability to think straight is normal. There is no timeline and there is no end goal to grief. We must be willing to accept griefs invitation and allow it to express itself and know that it is OK.

With traumatic grief, in order to survive, we take one breath at a time. We live one moment at a time. Then in time we take a couple of breaths at a time, we live a few moments at a time. Eventually, we live hours at a time and a morning at a time. One day we will realize that we smiled or the time between crying episodes was just a little bit longer than the last. We may wake up one morning and realized we slept longer than three hours.

If you are reading this and you have experienced a traumatic death. I honor your grief. I recognize your struggle; I acknowledge the depth of your despair. I do know that what you are experiencing is a representation of so much more than an” x” in a box. My hands are pressed together at my heart as I witness you living with Grief in Life.


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