The trauma of unexpected loss

*The topic of this blog post may be a trigger for those who have experienced trauma associated with the unexpected loss of a loved one.

Life is a delicate balance of daily tasks of work, school, family commitments and chores coupled with beautiful, fun-filled moments doing things we enjoy around those we love. However, that delicate balance is always at risk because, without warning, an unexpected loss can swoop in and change the lives of all those who love someone in one, horrifying instant.

Some instances of trauma of unexpected loss of a loved one that I know of, personally:

Parents that go to wake their healthy sleeping 5-year-old child, to find the horror that their child has unexpectedly passed in the night. Their marriage didn’t survive the loss and the trauma haunts the parents every day.

The young mother of a happily blended family who has been suffering from anorexia nervosa and bulimia, whose heart gave out during the night as she slept next to her physician husband. Not only did the children lose their mother, but the ties of those blended siblings were also forever severed.

The 19-year-old college student, studying law enforcement, falls asleep at the wheel less than 20 miles from home after a road trip to see the Red Sox, killing him. His surviving best friend has never been the same since. His only sibling forever missing him. His parents doing their best but their marriage not surviving the trauma of losing their eldest son.

The 17-year old who kisses her parents goodbye before leaving with friends and boyfriend to enjoy a hayride that went unimaginably wrong, and her life full of promise is inexplicably cut short, devastating not only her family; but her entire community.

At one of the above-mentioned wakes, a mutual friend, who was not originally from the US, came up to me, rather surprised. He said “Dawn, it’s so quiet in here. In my country, everyone would be grieving so loudly, letting the tears flow. Why is everyone so quiet and in control here? This is so sad.” I really didn’t know the answer. In our country, it seems that we are programmed to not make other’s feel uncomfortable in our sadness.

From an extremely young age, I have suffered traumas from unexpected losses. One of those being my mother committed suicide when I was just 4, and, worse yet, I knew it was suicide. My high school sweetheart was the 19-year-old law enforcement student mentioned above. My dearest friend who helped me so much through the loss of my high school sweetheart? She was the young mom mentioned above who died from complications from anorexia nervosa and bulimia. I can vividly recall the exact moment, pain, sounds and uncontrollable movements that came from me the moment I found out about each of those deaths. I was not given mental health support in processing at least two of those deaths. It wasn’t until I was old enough and responsible for my own mental health care that I finally received the counseling needed to process through those losses. Why do I write about that on this platform? There are countless studies that show emotional trauma can be triggers for autoimmune disease. I have met multitudes of autoimmune patients who, after becoming friends and truly getting to know their stories, I learn they, too, have had major emotional trauma in their lives.

Emotional trauma is like a sword to the heart. It can’t be ignored. It will stay there until, in time, it can be coaxed out. Then, the scar must be massaged and worked on continually to help lessen the effects of the scar tissue. This process is done through grieving, support, and supportive counseling.  And yet, our society tends to stifle the tears and try to move on without addressing the pain.

Just recently, our great state of Maine watched the news conference where we learned the details Det. Ben Campbell’s life lost in the line of duty.
The tragic circumstances around the up and coming young detective’s death shared from the Maine State Police news conference was almost too much to bear. Those were our friends in blue that could barely contain their tears behind the podium. We know them. We know their families. We’ve had them assist us when our cars have been disabled. We’ve celebrated their family’s milestone’s together. To see the pain on their faces, to hear it in their voices. We felt their pain, even if we weren’t blessed to have ever met Detective Ben Campbell

A week ago we watched Det. Ben Campbell’s funeral fit for the hero that he was. Tears flowed down my cheeks as I saw Hilary Campbell for the first time, with little Everett in her arms. Once again, the delicate balance of a most beautiful, giving life had been thrown off kilter by just one split second and one tire from a passing logging truck irrevocably changed the paths of his beautiful little family. The trauma of  the unexpected, tragic loss that the entire law enforcement community mourns, with Det. Ben Campbell’s beautiful little family.

Photo credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik/BDN

As I watched the televised funeral, the words of Det. Ben Campbell’s Supervisor, Terry James, jumped out at me as words that needed to be shared again. Terry was addressing a convention center full of not only Det. Campbell’s family and friends; but also the “toughest of men and women” in law enforcement. His words jumped out at me because they addressed the reality of trauma, sadness, and the need to process those feelings.

Upon receiving my request, Terry obliged, hoping that it would help others. It did not surprise me to find out that he has done graduate work in mental health. Some of the most powerful quotes from Terry’s speech at his friend and colleague Det Ben Campbell’s funeral included:

” I know no one likes to think about it, but bad things happen powerfully, quickly, cruelly and easily. “

This is a sad, true reality that those of us who have experienced loss understand full well.

“They begin small and helpless and need to be nurtured through many a dark night; but, with time, they grow tall and strong…then day comes when you have to love them enough to set them free into a world filled with danger. You pray they are safe, but the truth is this—what is good and right and can be taken from you by a cruel twist of fate in an instant. That’s what we have all thought at some point, isn’t it? Doubt about the world, our lives, and our jobs has entered our minds. So, we stand at the fork in the road and we are afraid. “

Terry addressed this to Ben’s mother; but it can be addressed to any mom, especially moms who have already suffered a loss. I told my oldest son, when he was learning to drive, that he had no idea how far I had come in my fears after my high school sweetheart’s death. We want to protect our children; but we have to let them live their dreams, too.

“I say to you now; all of you: the good to come from this will not happen by accident; it will not happen overnight or easily; and it will not magically appear just because we hope it does. It will take a lifetime of hard work and it will take all of us. They say a man can move a mountain, but that does not come about quickly—every single day you carry a small pebble and lay it on the pile; the next day another; and on and on. Even on the days to come when all you can do is get out of bed and force yourself to put one foot in front of the other, carry what you can.”

The days after the funeral of a loved one are the absolute hardest. Everyone has gone home. We look around and want to scream at everyone that life isn’t the same, how can they go on as if it is? But, our loved ones WOULD want us to live, even if it’s just breathing on some days.

“There is something very wrong with us if we feel we cannot show our feelings in a time like this. And you are looking at the poster boy: I did it for twenty years; I kept it together like it was a badge of honor—it is not. Bottling it up will make us sick inside and it will make us afraid to live. So, if you want to honor Ben and what he stood for: if there is a dry eye in the house; or any you are holding anything in right now…you let it out, and you let it hurt—it’s supposed to hurt—stop telling yourself you are fine when you are not. I don’t care if you are standing in front of camera crew, you bawl your eyes out and hug each other and hang on for dear life for as long as you need to. But admit it to yourself: this is awful; I am lost; I am afraid, and I don’t know what to do. But then, in a little while, when we’re all done crying—for the moment—before we start that whole wonderful cycle all over again later; when you feel just a tiny bit better…dry your eyes, brush yourself off and screw your head on straight. We will stand shoulder to shoulder, all of us, and together, in lockstep, we will take that horrible, confusing, terrifying first step out of this nightmare. “

Terry, Thank you for being a leader gives the toughest of men and women the permission to cry. It is what our world needs right now. It is indeed the first step to healing.

The absolute most powerful quote from the funeral of Det. Ben Campbell, however, was from Hilary Campbell:

“Take life in. Life gets crazy. Small things become larger than they should and get more attention than they deserve. Don’t waste your time on it … Don’t let negative emotions fill your heart, because no one has promised you tomorrow.”

In a time of extreme emotional pain, the sword was still in her heart from the traumatic loss of her husband and their baby son’s father, and yet, she was already thinking of others.

Hilary, the services are done; but know that we are all thinking of and praying for you and Everett.  We all wish beyond words that the delicate balance of life didn’t go off kilter that fateful, horrible day that your beloved husband stopped to do what he did best, helping a disabled motorist, greeting him with his amazing smile.

For those wishing to donate to Det. Ben Campbell’s family:

Maine State Police have worked with Campbell’s family and his estate to set up a fund that will help to support his wife, Hilary, and their 6-month-old son. Donations can be sent to Detective Benjamin Campbell Fund, Bangor Savings Bank, PO Box 454, Skowhegan, ME 04976.  Donations can also be be made directly to the account via PayPal

For anyone in need of emotional support, you can text “START” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.


Dawn DeBois

About Dawn DeBois

Florida born and Maine grown, my life has been atypical. My childhood was full of loss and severe physical pain. Both emotional and physical stress during childhood has been found to contribute to autoimmune disease. My first autoimmune diagnosis was at the age of 28, which has led to juggling multiple autoimmune diseases (Hashimoto’s, Fibromyalgia, Ankylosing Spondylitis, Psoriatic Arthritis and most recently LEMS- Lambert Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome). I am officially now classified as having “Multiple Autoimmune Syndrome.” You know what they say, go big or go home! You can now follow my LEMS jouney on my weekly column, LEMme Tell Ya, on