Time for a reality check

Communicating with Karl as my mourning deepens helps me find a blessing in every single day. With Karl’s support, in my every action, however small, I seek to express appreciation for all aspects of my life and to find ways to allow those perceptions to help me flourish. I feel I am making significant progress.

Some friends gently remark that I seem “softer”, less of a “control freak”!

By the time my first mourning year comes to an end, I am getting a bit cocky. It is time for a reality check. Life has other plans for me. And a harsh one is in store for me in early January 2017.

Grieving people often over-share

Because of our desperate vulnerability, grieving people often over-share. I am one of those people. It’s hardly surprising when you think of it: in the case of a sudden, violent and shocking death, everything is so unfamiliar; we cannot navigate despair; we leak out. In early January 2017, eleven months after Karl’s death, I share widely by email my deep sense of desperation when I have a powerful PTS attack following the flash flooding of Rose’s house, which has become my haven.

I have hit rock bottom.

I am positive I will die; I do not know how it will happen, but I am certain I will die.

My triggered trauma brings a terror that is utterly unfamiliar to me. I am terrified to leave my emergency housing. What I do not know then is that psychological trauma can disempower and disconnect us from others. We desperately need to retell our story of the traumatic events, to establish safety, and to reconnect with others.

The guiding principle of recovery from PTS is to restore power and control to the survivor. Correctly done, the work of reconstruction transforms the traumatic memory so that it can be integrated into the survivor’s life story.

DR Vanda’s response

Dr Vanda Rounsefell


When I reach out by email after the flood, Adelaide-based Vanda, a wise and close friend (and a medical doctor and experienced therapist), immediately recognizes the magnitude of what I had lost. Vanda “hears” me. She understands what specialists in grieving like Judy Tatelbaum repeatedly remind us:

Grief is a wound that needs attention in order to heal. To work through and complete grief means to face our feelings openly and honestly, to express and release our feelings fully and to tolerate and accept our feelings for however long it takes for the wound to heal” (The Courage to Grieve, 2008: 9).


Vanda also recognizes that I am on a lonely journey that few of my friends understand. I am passing through fear into a new life. I need friends who understand my circumstances and who will travel with me. Vanda bears witness to my grief and bears with me throughout all my difficult times.

She identifies my state as decompensation.

Emailing from Adelaide, Vanda advises me to write everything down, as I might need it later. She recommends a hospital visit if I feel I require urgent medical help, as well as a visit to my GP, who should ring my psychologist.

And she says this:

Remember, you’ll probably be going through another grieving process, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself experiencing an array of feelings. You’ll be grieving for not just the material losses but loss of the trust you felt you had in your steady recovery.

Clearly, your next big task is to re-compensate, but I think that is a bit too tall an order until you’ve settled down a bit more and had a chance to calm down. Until you can find a little steady internal core to build on. This period too will pass, but while it’s going on, you will need just to recognize you are in ‘survival’ mode and do what you can to be safe and nurtured….

This is a very uncomfortable and chaotic event that has temporarily derailed you.

AND I don’t think you can avoid the discomfort.

AND I think after a relatively short while (shorter than you think), you will start to discover little slivers of normality, as your mind will not have forgotten your recent progress.

Without a doubt, this is a serious setback. You have such a wonderful, smart, creative mind that I can’t see it lurking in decompensation indefinitely…. But for the moment, just let it all rest. I may have mentioned my dog that used to lie under a tree when she got sick, often for quite a long period, until she felt better. Then she’d get up and join us.

Our problem at the moment is to find you a good tree.