Coping With Traumatic Events

My neighbor, Jim, who is 70 years old, asked me if I had any ideas on coping with his wife’s death because he felt so depressed, even after 6 months of grieving. They had been married for 40 years.

He was naturally shocked and it left him feeling hopeless.

“Jim, this subject of coping came up in my Discussion Club and some answers came forward.”

Jim had a far away look in his eyes.

I continued, “How do you feel now after the 6 months.”

“I feel like I’m in a perpetual crisis,” he said, soberly.

Tears ran down his cheeks.

Wiping the tears away, Jim continued, “I feel overwhelmed by my wife’s death and it seems like my world has collapsed. I don’t have any hope for my future alone.”

He hesitated for a minute then he said:

“What can be done about my mental state?”

“Well, Jim, the answers are the same for any traumatic event that you have to cope with.

Resignation to the situation is a great help. Say to yourself, “I’m going to live through this and I’m going to endure it.” In other words, you are accepting your depression and not fighting it. You might behave like a walking zombie for a while but time does heal.”

“But, I feel like I’ve lost everything. This grief is getting to me,” Jim said, hopelessly.

“Jim, disruptions in life are a regular occurrence. We attach ourselves to people and things so letting go isn’t easy, the more we try to hold on the more pain we feel. Death is a loss we can’t control.”

“But, how do we cope and overcome depression?”

“Grieving is the way we come to terms with loss. Life involves a string of losses, death of friends and loved ones, loss of possessions, money, job, hope, confidence, our dreams, and loss of health.”

“But, what’s the answer?” Jim shouted.

He started wringing his hands. I waited a minute to let him calm down, then I said:

“Acceptance is the answer. Acceptance of the trauma is what is needed. Having to let go of what we have is sometimes unavoidable. You need to accept the inevitability of loss. Once we accept and stop fighting loss, healing can start.”

“What do YOU do in the face of trauma?”

Well, Jim, my wife died of cancer within 6 months. The shock was almost unbearable. Mindfulness training helped me cope and face life again.”

“How did YOU feel about the loss?’

“Loss is traumatic. All areas of life involve loss: childhood, adolescence, middle-age, and old age. But these losses can create new life if we accept the sorrow. Eventually, the suffering subsides and we experience, in the present, heightened awareness and joy. Throw yourself into each moment, for it is the only life you have.”

“Tell me more about this mindfulness stuff,” Jim said, with a glimmer of hope in his voice.

“Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the Present Moment, while calmly accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You need to be consciously in the Present.”

“Do you mean we spend most of our lives in a semi-conscious state?”

“That’s right, we dwell on the past, and think about the future. We aren’t making positive choices about our lives.”

“So, you’re saying that we can change the operation of our own minds?”

“That’s right. I cannot stop getting old or dying. I cannot control your opinion of me, I can’t change the past. But, and this is a big BUT. I can choose how I will REACT to getting old and to your opinion of me, and finally I can decide how my past will influence me and the person I will become in the future. I have CHOICES.”

“So, what’s the final conclusion? Can you tell me?”

“Jim, I will try.”

I could see eagerness in Jim’s eyes.

“We have to ACCEPT the loss of EVERYTHING in life. In the end, we will be separated from everything we hold dear. Throughout life, we have to say “so long” to loved ones, to possessions, to our dreams and hopes. Mindfulness helps us to PREPARE for that inevitability and to ACCEPT it with joy and contentment and live what life we have left fully.”

“Boy, that was a mouthful,” said Jim, smiling.

“Glad to see you smile again, my friend.”

I waited a minute to have all that I had said sink in.

“Finally, mindfulness reminds us that life is ephemeral and denying that only brings unhappiness. Accepting the impermanence of life is liberation and allows us to be happy and appreciate life.”

“Is that it?’ Jim said, seriously.

“One more thing, remember to punctuate your day with the anchor of breathing exercises. Deep inhale, hold, and slow exhale through the mouth. These breathing spaces during the day will calm you and re-establish your focus on the here and now, the only life you have.”

My neighbor was smiling from ear to ear.

“Jim, good luck with your exercises and your choices.”

Also published on Medium.

3 thoughts on “Coping With Traumatic Events

  1. Easy to say Dave but six months is a very short time to come to terms, I have a friend who twenty years on has still not come to terms with her husbands untimely death. I have found that allowing people to talk about it no matter how tedious to myself helps a great deal. True friendship. . The mindful course sounds interesting.


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