In The Mission, Jennifer Sinclair grieves because she has suffered a loss. Her loss is termed “traumatic” because it was sudden and unexpected. All losses result in traumatic feelings in the colloquial sense, but Jenny’s loss is traumatic in the medical sense, meaning she suffered lasting shock as a result of a disturbing experience.
Grief is more complex than we might think. It involves more than sadness: fear, anxiety, bitterness, helplessness, dread, guilt, and anger may also be present. Some people withdraw and are terribly lonely. We think of grief as emotional, and it is, but there are physical components, too, such as exhaustion, headaches, nervous stomach, inability to concentrate, and an increased tendency to contract minor illnesses.
Most people experience at least three stages of grief: disbelief (the initial shock caused by the loss), despair (the primary feeling which follows disbelief), and determination (what is required for an individual to recover and build a new life). These are not linear.
The presence of trauma intensifies the grief symptoms. Individuals may re-experience the event when the loss occurred, through thoughts, nightmares, or flashbacks. Flashbacks may be caused by triggers: a sight, sound, or smell associated with the event. Panic attacks may cause flushing, sweating, or rapid heartbeats. In addition, trauma can cause mood swings (from tears or anger to lack of responsiveness or detachment from others), changes in eating habits, changes in sleeping habits, difficulty with concentration or memory, and recurring fear in spite of reassurance.
Recovering from grief takes time, and recovery from trauma may take even longer, because trauma isn’t just experienced in the mind and the spirit. The body feels it also, and the body remembers. Why? Because in trauma, the fight or flight response, which is meant to last only a few minutes, lasts longer, and the body absorbs it. That’s why triggers work and why they can happen even when we’re not consciously thinking about the event. Trauma has a long life.
It’s important to remember that all the grief and trauma symptoms are normal and that the people who experience them are normal. They are simply having to deal with something that wasn’t normal.
In Jenny’s case, as in others, time by itself does not heal. An action of some kind is required, such as accepting help, whether from a friend or a professional. Jenny needs consistency in her environment, dependability from others, and a safety net when her feelings become overwhelming. She needs help to manage her expectations, particularly where closure is concerned. You see, closure is a deceptive concept, because feelings do not stop. They ebb and flow, they change, but some feelings about a loss will always be present.
Traumatic grief changes Jenny. She is required to adjust to what psychologists and crisis counselors call a “new normal,” that is, a new self. Doors she would have walked through before may no longer be appropriate, and doors she would not have considered or did not know existed before may be better suited to the person she is now. She explores new feelings and new directions.
From The Mission:
“Grief is like a newborn baby whose needs require round the clock care, and you carry your grief close to you because babies can’t walk. Then the child grows into a terrible two-year-old, whose tantrums you can’t control. Gradually the child’s independence allows you brief respites. Adolescence comes, and with it, times when you are separate from your grief. Finally adulthood arrives, and although you will always have a connection with your child, your grief demands very little of you, just the occasional recognition of its presence and meaning.
Grief never goes completely, because love doesn’t end. The hold that grief has over you lessens but never disappears. A wise friend (said) once that there’s a glow on the horizon that you can’t see when your grief is most powerful. When the grief begins to ebb, even a little, the glow is visible, but only if you look for it. Each time you see it, the glow will be larger. Remember to look.”
A Moving Slice of Life Sandwiched Between Two Covers
After a long three-year wait, Naomi Kryske’s sequel to her novel THE WITNESS has finally been released! Entitled THE MISSION, I have to confess that the wait was worth it — Kryske has penned another compelling and suspenseful story about the American protagonist, Jenny, who almost became the seventh victim of a serial killer in the first book.
THE MISSION begins with the September 11th terrorist attacks on the United States. Although Jenny now lives in Hampstead, an upscale suburb of London, she is shaken by the events of September 11 and by other terrorist events which strike her in ways she could never have anticipated. If I tell you any more than that, I’ll spoil it for you!
Incredibly real, life-like, and complex characters populate Kryske’s novels, and the tension in this psychological crime drama kept me turning pages late into the night. Kryske writes with such authority, beauty, and wisdom that I was moved to tears (but there were funny passages too). In addition, THE MISSION provided moments when the profound impact of the truths that Kryske shares broke through my preconceived notions about life. I’m thrilled with THE MISSION but bereft because I’ll probably have to wait another two or three years before her next book comes out. What to do in the meantime? Reread both THE WITNESS and THE MISSION!