• Halloween, PTSD, and Child Loss

    TrickorTreatFor most people, thoughts of Halloween and Trick-or-Treat come with positive associations.

    Candy, costumes, and happy children.

    But for parents who’ve lost children to death, Halloween is a trigger of things that once were or things that might have been. The holiday can be a nightmare of memories, shattered dreams, and lost hope.

    Can the death of a child cause PTSD?

    According to psychotherapist Carole Kearns, pioneer in grief and loss, the answer is “yes,” particularly if the parent has experienced intense fear, helplessness, or horror. Symptoms of PTSD include

    • intrusive and recurring recollections of the event
    • flashbacks and a sense of reliving the past
    • avoidance of things associated with the trauma
    • diminished interest in significant activities
    • sleep difficulties, anger outbursts, trouble concentrating, hypervigilance, exaggerated startle response

    PTSD is a concern when symptoms persist for more than a month and cause disturbances in the parent’s ability to function. Families often become dysfunctional after the death of a child. Coping styles can vary, and one parent may withdraw while another cries often. Parents often struggle to handle wide-ranging needs of surviving children. Rates of divorce among parents who lose a child are high.

    How can parents cope?

    It’s important for grieving parents to connect with other parents who have been through the same process. The following organizations offer help:

    Grieving parents should seek counseling and be sure their children are given needed counseling, as well. If depression is a concern, seek out a family physician for a physical exam and consultation.

    It’s normal to experience triggers on holidays, anniversary dates, and special days. Prepare for those days in advance and consider commemorating them in creative ways.  Talk to close friends and family members about how holidays affect you and give yourself permission to grieve on your own timeline as you move forward in your healing.

    1. Accept your loss, and give yourself permission to be angry. You loved deeply, and you hurt deeply, but refuse to get lost in bitterness and a victim mentality.
    2. Recognize that you will grieve your own way, and family members may grieve differently.

    3. Don’t put unrealistic deadlines on your mourning or the mourning of loved ones and family members.

    4. Write your way through your grief. Writing has a way of helping your brain process trauma.

    5. Seek out others who have suffered similar loss and talk to them. Glean from their wisdom.

    6. Accept that you aren’t responsible for your child’s death and couldn’t have done something more or something differently. Determine to live again–to honor the life of your child and to honor the lives of those still with you.

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