A Note on Dealing with Death & Dying, Trauma & Tragedy

At a recent workshop on ‘Trauma in Everyday Life,’ a psychologist spoke about big ‘T’ and little ‘t’ trauma. Big ‘T’ trauma is what we commonly refer to when speaking of serious accidents, war, death, etc. In its most severe form, big ‘T’ trauma can lead to post-traumatic stress. On the other hand, little ‘t’ trauma refers to the everyday violence we encounter, such as being teased, losing a pet or a job, being picked last in a group activity, receiving negative comments on a blog. While such experiences may seem irrelevant to onlookers, their impact can often still be significant.

In the past eight months, I have experienced my fair share of both types of trauma. From the tragic loss of a young friend who fell to his death while on a hike, as well as the recent passing of my mother-in-law. To the oddly regular and mostly invisible occurrences of sexism, racism, and ageism. Like most people, I am trying to make sense of this thing we call ‘life,’ when faced with such tragedies.

The psychologist at the workshop had us close our eyes.

“Take a deep breath….and another….

Feel your feet on the floor….the hardness of your shoes and the surface they sit on…the soft and giving texture of the carpet.

Open your eyes…name 3 colors you see…now name 3 textures you see.

Listen….what are you hearing? My voice, the projector, the air conditioning…”

She led us in this short exercise on presence and mindfulness, by engaging our senses and taking just a few moments to take in the sights, sounds and feelings in our body. How is it we continue living day by day with the trauma of everyday life? By taking the time to breathe, checking in with ourselves, and being realistic with ourselves and others about our current state. By exercising perspective about the daily trauma and tragedy we must endure, and allowing ourselves to sit with sadness and heartache. By exercising gratitude for this experience of such extreme emotions, as well as recognizing the opportunity to survive and move forward.

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I am on the editorial board of AS, a National Platform for the Next Generation of Humanist Thinkers. 

About Vanessa Gomez Brake

Vanessa Gomez Brake is the guest editor of NonProphet Status. She does interfaith work on the Stanford campus, and is passionate about building humanist community. Currently, she serves as Co-President of the San Francisco Bay Area Humanists. Vanessa is a Filipina - American, by way of Arizona and Guam. She currently resides in Oakland, California. She is a vegetarian, folk dancer & musician, ping pong champion, dog lover, and bicycling nerd.