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Healing from Trauma to Navigate Grief


picture of actress Ashley Judd wsith dark blue shirt, long hair, and smiling.
Ashley Judd lost her mother to suicide in 2022, and we can learn from her grief journey.

In a recent interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper, actress Ashley Judd described how she had to heal from her own traumatic history to cope with her mother, Naomi Judd’s suicide in 2022. Ms. Judd and Mr. Cooper talked about their grief very candidly and how their experiences were similar and different. Ms. Judd's grief journey intrigued me, and I admire how she came through it.

This interview inspired me to write this blog about how healing from previous trauma facilitates grief resolution. I am grateful to both celebrities for their candor and heartfelt sharing so that other mourners can see that they are not alone in the strange, intense journey called grief.

Losing someone to suicide can complicate grief

When you lose someone to suicide, there are often questions about responsibility. We are all interconnected, especially with our loved ones and those very close to us. It’s natural to wonder what you could have done differently to prevent the suicide.

But there’s also a chance to recognize that suicide is a choice over which you don’t have control, unless you’re the person choosing to end his/her/their life. Ms. Judd seemed to be able to see that her mother suffered physically and mentally for many years, and that her mother’s choice was not necessarily her fault. Of course, like all of us, she wanted her mother to be happy and healthy, but she couldn’t make those choices. Only her mother could.

Besides guilt associated with losing someone to suicide, you can also experience anger and confusion. There’s nothing wrong with being angry, because someone you love has chosen to end their life. But eventually you can come to understand and have compassion for their struggle and pain. Suicide isn’t a decision people make lightly. It often comes after years of suffering and feelings of hopelessness and pain. Not knowing what the person was going through makes it harder to understand and reconcile with the fact that they chose to end their lives. This can be painfully confusing and disorienting. These are emotions that can be handled and processed in therapy for traumatic grief.

Your trauma history can complicate grief as well

It’s very difficult to cope with a loss such as what Ms. Judd suffered if you already have adverse childhood experiences such as child abuse, neglect, sexual assault, poverty, and absent parents. Ms. Judd wisely recognized that she had to deal with these issues and more, as well as become a sober person years ago.

One of the methods she used to recover from her earlier traumatic experiences was EMDR therapy. This seemed to help her release the pain and horror of what happened to her, so that losing her mother to suicide was not compounded by unresolved trauma. EMDR therapy is one way that you can resolve past trauma to experience life in the present more clearly and less stressfully.

EMDR therapy can also be helpful in resolving traumatic aspects of grief. Ms. Judd found her mother’s body and for many people, that would be very traumatic. Sometimes the sight of that replays in people’s minds and they have difficulty proceeding with grieving their loved one because of the intrusive memories and thoughts. EMDR therapy is very effective in helping people move on from trauma associated with loss.

Grief can also bring about growth and gratitude

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. playing with daughter and wife
Many of Dr. King's descendants are carrying on his important work as a way to honor him.

Believe it or not, there can be positive aspects to losing a loved one. In the initial throes of grief, it’s hard to even entertain this idea. But Ms. Judd talked about gratitude to her grandparents and her mother for the positive memories she had of them. She could appreciate how curious and multifaceted her mother was. She talked about strengths her mother had and remembered her mother fondly, despite the pain of losing her to suicide.

Healing from trauma and grief can lead to posttraumatic growth

Sometimes, even when you lose someone as close to you as a parent, child, spouse or sibling, you can still experience posttraumatic growth. You might, as Ms. Judd did, become more grateful. You could realize how strong and resilient you are, or you could carry on the values of your deceased loved ones. This is how many of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s children and grandchild are carrying on his important work and legacy.

You don’t have a choice about people you love departing from this earth, from your life. But you do have a choice as to how you cope with it, and the meaning you make because of it. I would love to help you move through your grief, whether it’s acute, expected, unexpected, traumatic, or whatever your reaction. If you want to learn more about how I can help you, please call 661-233-6771.



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