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Family & Friends : Coping with Loss

There is no greater stress than the sudden, unexpected death of a loved one. In the aftermath, we are shocked, confused, and left searching for a way to understand what has happened. Sadly, 40-45% of those struck by a ruptured brain aneurysm will not survive. Approximately 15% of patients with aneurysmal SAH die before reaching the hospital. Most of the deaths from subarachnoid hemorrhage are due to rapid and massive brain injury from the initial bleeding and are not correctable by medical and surgical interventions.
Our brains are designed to help us make sense of what has happened and it assigns meanings to events. During periods of grief and distress, our minds often conjure up irrational thoughts that may cause guilt, anger, or self-criticism, emotions that aggravate and prolong grief.  For example, an individual who has just lost a loved one to an aneurysm may develop the belief that they are somehow responsible for the death because they did not see it coming. As a result of this thought, the loss becomes more painful.

Searching for meaning is always part of the grief process, but it is important to recognize that the search may lead to unnecessary suffering. Irrational thoughts frequently arise in the days and months following a loss. If they are not recognized and corrected, irrational thoughts can lead to long-term emotional distress. It is important to know how to recognize irrational thoughts and interpretations of events that lead to prolonged grief and sadness, and how to combat them when they arise. Some examples of irrational thoughts and feelings that may arise during the grief process are listed below.

It is important to recognize that the thoughts that occur to you when you are stressed are not always accurate representations of reality. Monitor your thoughts and test them for whether or not they make sense by discussing them with others and question them yourself. Talk to others openly about your thoughts and feelings that you are having during the grieving process. You can gain perspective by simply voicing what you are thinking. Describing your thoughts to others helps you understand and deal with them more effectively. The perspectives of friends or others can be helpful in the process of coming to terms with your loss.

It is important to examine your thoughts about your loss and to reason through whether or not what you are thinking makes sense.

Listed below are some typical irrational thoughts that arise during the grieving process.

Guilty thoughts

“I should have seen this coming”

“It was so obvious she wasn’t well . . . why did I ignore it?”

Many aggrieved persons criticize themselves for not recognizing symptoms that may have predicted a fatal brain aneurysm. Self-criticism can lead to life-long guilt and feelings of worthlessness. If the thought is accepted as fact, permanent psychological damage can result. The fact is that it is impossible for someone who is not a physician to be able to predict a medical event such as an aneurysm. Most people have no idea what an aneurysm is, much less possess the ability to predict one. Trained medical personnel have difficulty making a diagnosis without CT scans or other diagnostic techniques.

Angry thoughts

“How dare she leave me in this situation?”

“He shouldn’t have smoked all those years . . . he would be alive now if he had listened to me.”

It is not uncommon to experience anger toward the deceased, and then to feel guilty about having such thoughts. Such anger is irrational, but is often present after an unexpected loss.

“Why did this happen to me?” (or to the deceased?)

This question is almost always very destructive, because it is impossible to reach a conclusion that leads to anything but intense self-criticism. The underlying belief inherent in asking why something bad happened to you is that you did something to deserve it. As we all have faults and have made mistakes, trying to answer “why” a death has occurred will lead to self blame and feelings of worthlessness.

There are a number of ways our attempts to understand a sudden loss can lead to severe and prolonged grief. Talk to a professional if your thoughts persist and you cannot control them. A clinical psychologist is trained to recognize irrational thoughts and can help you deal with them more effectively.

Create a Memorial

Many families have indicated a desire to honor their loved ones that have been tragically lost due to a brain aneurysm by establishing a Memorial in their name. Publishing a Memorial page allows you to create a living memorial of a loved one that has passed due to a brain aneurysm. You can personalize the memorial page with a photo, stories about their life for family and friends to read, as well as allowing them to share their own messages of rememberance. They will also have an opportunity to make a donation to The Brain Aneurysm Foundation.

Click here to start setting up your own memorial page or to find a memorial page already set up.