After Violent Death
Your initial responsibility is to help someone in crisis, and you should do that. Keep them safe until family or medical personnel are available to help. You will be asked why this has happened. Know that an answer is not actually expected. Really, the only response to any of the shock reactions is to hold on tight, and tell them how sorry you are. Anything else you say is not likely to register anyway.
If your involvement looks like it may go beyond the day of the event, you need to do some soul searching, and make some decisions.
You are looking at a possible Commitment of several months to one year. The demand should lessen as time goes on, and it will come to a natural end. But in the meantime, it can get intense. Your family has to know about this (while keeping your friend’s confidences intact), and absolutely has to be supportive of your involvement. If this factor is missing, you cannot act as support person. Period. The psycho-dynamics of that will not be discussed here.
Be honest with your friend. If you can’t do it, you can’t. In time, when the world begins to make sense again, your friend will understand, and appreciate your position. Better to bow out in the beginning, when others can be turned to. Deciding in six months that this isn’t your cup of tea makes it harder. More on that in a minute.
What is expected of you? Listen. Don’t judge or advise. Listen. Keep it real, honest. Listen. Focus on your friend. Focus on the event, but not for too long at a time. Listen. If needed, a call to 911 or a hotline. Avoid your personal opinion, comparisons to your own life (unless you have lost someone to violent death also), gossip, or any part of your friend’s life not related to the event.
Which brings us to setting boundaries. It is so very easy to go beyond your support over a traumatic event. We are human. It’s such a small step over into relationship issues, financial matters, family issues, whatever. And since it seems you’re getting to be so close, why not run a few of your own things past your friend? Well, friend isn’t capable of taking your stuff on at this point. Since protection is one of your roles, you mustn’t be the one to ask more of your friend than they are capable of. Other than what is related to the event, stick to small talk.
If you and your friend were close before the violent death, you must separate death events from life issues. Yeah, that sounds weird. When it’s time to talk about the death event, do so. When that is finished, and conversations turn to day to day stuff, take a physical, psychological break to distinguish the two. “Let’s refill our cups” or “Shall we move to the porch?” By keeping trauma and daily life in their places, both can be dealt with in a healthy manner. When the two get mixed in together, inseparable, recovery takes so much longer. Ideally, it is best to deal with and recover from the trauma, then incorporate that recovery into daily life. If the two are intermingled, all of daily life revolves around the trauma, prolonging healing for years.
A bit earlier we discussed time commitments. ANY time this becomes more than you can handle, becomes what dominates YOUR life, causes you stress, or generates unease in your family, you have to excuse yourself. You are being asked for emotional support, not martyrdom.
Hopefully you are aware that the genders deal differently with trauma? If not, do your homework, especially if you are a different gender from the one in crisis. Male/female/trans each have distinguishing characteristics in how trauma and grief are processed. Individuals are going to do things that may seem odd to others. This is all part of the trauma response. Feel free to ask why any particular behavior is being done. Since you are the voice of reason in this situation, you determine when your friend is going too far, and suggest professional help. Consult with your friend’s family, if possible.
It may help you to make a list of Land Mines. These are things that can trigger a strong reaction after the trauma, and you may never see them coming if you’re not prepared. Land Mines can include the deceased’s birthday, a holiday, something in which the deceased usually participated (golf, car races), certain music, the location of the traumatic event, workplace – you get the idea. Listening to your friend talk about the deceased can give you many hints. If you are prepared for Land Mines, you can prepare your friend, and the emotional damage is greatly minimized. The first anniversary of the death is a whopper. Since the protection of shock is gone, this date can be more traumatic than the day of the event. Be prepared for this.
Know that what you are doing is a magnificent gift. Add to it prayer for your friend, and you have literally saved a life. Thank you and bless you. You are a rare human being, and we are honored to have you as part of this community. You help us experience
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