Bereavement and forgiveness
Sarah lost her brother in a car accident. The driver who killed her brother did not stop to help. Sarah’s only brother was 18 and about to start university. Sarah said: “I promised my mum to look after him but I failed.” For the last 4 years since her brother died, Sarah was having frequent nightmares where she saw her brother in hospital in a vegetative state with many tubes inserted in him.
Sarah has 3 children of her own ages 5, 12 and 16. She came to see me for EMDR therapy as it was getting very difficult for her to look after them. “I get so upset for nothing,” she said. Sarah was also suffering panic attacks and feeling scared every time she crossed a busy road. She said: If a car hit me, no one will come to help me, just like happened to my brother.”
During our first session, I explained how EMDR works and Sarah was determined to go ahead. “I have nothing to lose and everything to gain, I just can’t continue this way,” she said. As we started therapy, we looked at her most upsetting memories and unhelpful beliefs that were at the centre of the problem. We also discussed the worst images that kept repeating in he mind and during her nightmares: 1) Seen her brother in intensive care in hospital and 2) Imagining his brother bleeding and dying alone on the street. Her core beliefs were “it is unsafe to be out”,”if I forgive the person who killed my brother he would never rest in peace.” As we targeted these images and beliefs with EMDR, Sarah started noticing some positive changes in her mood and the nightmares were less frequent. Week-by-week she was finding it easier to control her anger, and her relationship with her children improved. We also targeted her struggle with her own family as she felt judged by them. She said: “My family keeps telling me I should move on but I can’t. I have so much hatred towards the person who killed my brother. It feels like a piece of my heart has been taken. I don’t even want to go out of the house as anyone on the street can be my brother’s killer.” Sarah had been isolating herself from her family to avoid having arguments and feeling judged. I proposed adopting a more healthy belief with EMDR: “Although I feel judged by my family, they love me and wish me well. I have the right to deal with the death of my brother in my own way and in my own time.” Sarah accepted this suggestion and this new view of the situation helped her to become more understanding and tolerant.During the next session she said that she was feeling better but commented that she was experiencing some anxiety as the anniversary of her brother’s death was approaching. Almost five years had passed since her brother’s death and Sarah was not sure how she was going to cope. We decided to target this anxiety and Sarah felt calmer and more in control straight away.
During our 10th and final session, Sarah came to the session with a big smile in her face. She told me of a gathering to commemorate the death of his brother. Sarah said: “It was an enjoyable time with my family and friends. Year-by-year until now, March has been a time of sadness and anger for me, but to my surprise, it was a celebration of my brother’s life and an opportunity for sharing how much my brother meant to everyone. I knew it was time to move on.”