My Traumatic Grief Story - Alexander Biven (May 11th, 1985-August 27th, 2002)
When I was 14 years old, I experienced a traumatic death that has deeply impacted my life. Alex and I started off as friends but his persistence and enthusiasm to win my heart was strong. My parents did not want me dating due to my age, but Alex was determined to show them he was a good young man who had good intentions: he would show up at my school and walk me home each day, he knew he was not allowed inside our house, so he would sit on the front porch waiting for me to finish my after-school snack and to show my parents that he was not giving up. My parents finally gave in when they realized how good of a person he was. We would go on to have supervised movie nights and he attended a few family dinners. One day we got in a fight, and I told him “I fucking hate you”. I ignored him the next day and then he left for a vacation with his cousin to the Pinery Provincial Park. Well, that was the last thing I ever said to him. He ended up getting caught in the undertow and drowned. I found out about his drowning by someone I really disliked. I thought they were trying to play a joke on me, but they were not. I was in denial since the dive teams were unable to locate his body and had hoped that he had swam to shore somewhere else. It took a week for his body to bloat and float to the surface which is when he was found by a fisherman. My 14-year-old mind broke.
My parents were initially supportive when I first found out about his death. They also cried, but the support did not continue. They did not know how to navigate this trauma I was experiencing and after a few months, I was on my own and not getting any better. I started to self harm to the point that I had around one hundred cuts on my body at any given time and I even attempted to take my life multiple times. My parents told me I did not have any right to be grieving because he was not my boyfriend at the time (because of our fight). They thought my behaviour was just me acting out to get attention as there was still so much stigma around mental health struggles. I did not receive grief counselling of any sort. The most help I got was for the self harm, but that was just a band aid. I had my friends to talk to and cry with, but I would have liked professional support because I felt that I was the reason he died. I had thought that if I were not mean to him, he would have tried harder to swim to shore.
I have carried a lot of anxiety with me due to this event. Any time a boyfriend would leave for a vacation without me, I would be sick to my stomach with anxiety until he came back. Up to 5 years ago it would still get me worked up. I feel that I am now in a better place mentally as my Social Service Worker program has provided a lot of insight into my struggles. I am now able to handle the death of those around me very easily. Nothing compares to an immature and developing brain’s perspective of a traumatic death. Fortunately, this experience has driven me to want to help others deal with their grief since I feel I have experienced a particularly hard one.
If I could change anything about the experience, I would obviously want Alex to still be alive. His life was cut way too short. But, for myself, I would have liked to have had professional support. Many struggles in my life may have been avoided if I had better guidance. I felt like I was thrown off course and had to struggle way more than necessary to get back to where I should have been developmentally. I moved out too young, I dropped out of high school which I eventually did finish, I then dropped out of college twice. I was not able to experience my teenage years and early 20’s like my peers. I struggled with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, travel phobia, low self esteem/self-hatred and agoraphobia.
I have looked back on this experience so often. It has been 19 years and I can still feel the pain. I feel that I should have received more support, but back then, mental health was not talked about like it is today. Mental health issues were just something to be pushed aside and ignored. I do not blame my parents for how my trauma was handled as this was a difficult situation that any parent would struggle with; however, I cannot help but wonder if I would be in a better place mentally and career-wise if I had had professional help during this traumatic event. On the other hand, it has made me who I am today: a sensitive and caring person with an optimistic and supportive outlook on death and dying.