My idea of traumatic grief rests on a definition that unites two related but distinct concepts: grief and trauma. My core argument is that this extreme form of grief manifests as a distressing preoccupation with the deceased or the death itself, a shattered lifeworld and dissociation, and shame/guilt/anger/depression together with impaired social functioning. I see the experience of traumatic grief as an existential challenge rather than a diagnostic category.
I believe that a phenomenological study of traumatic grief edge us towards deeper understandings of grief in general. As a psychotherapist, I have heard many stories of traumatic grief. Each time I witness these harrowing experiences, I am reminded of the more that lies behind apparently simple biographical facts such as being bereaved.
Applied to psychotherapy, my study highlights the value of careful, compassionate, slow phenomenological dwelling. Rather than reaching for familiar diagnostic categories or simple ideas around 'stages of grief', therapists need to hear, and heed, the layered meanings within individuals’ stories. If grief makes its presence known, it behoves us to explore every facet of its lurking presence in our client’s particular lifeworld. Only then can the long, arduous journey begin, the trek towards a semblance of healing and the possibility of once more fully being in the world.