Dr Rachel Andrew: Disbelief to denial – the long journey of two sons

A carer-child bond is often the most important and lasting relationship in a person's life, even when it is not a particularly healthy one. A sudden, unexplained death of a close parent can be extremely traumatic. Mark and Anthony Darwin will have experienced a range of emotions given the news of their father's "death": people can feel angry, responsible, sad, regretful, guilty and helpless.

We cope with grief in a number of ways. Mark and Anthony may have gone through stages from an initial disbelief and denial through to acceptance. These stages are not necessarily linear. In the early stages of grief, relatives may have been unable to sleep or eat, had intrusive thoughts about their father, and experienced nightmares or vivid dreams. The bereaved often experience an intense sense of loss and even physical pain. The two sons may also have begun to feel responsible for their mother; that they must look after her and ease her grief.

To subsequently find out that their father had not actually died would have led to surprise, relief and happiness – quickly followed, with the unveiling of the deception, by shock, anger and disgust.

How well these two young men have coped suggests that they are extremely resilient. Their relationship with each other may have helped.

But the long term impact of such traumatic events can often include changes in how people see themselves, others and the world. Many say they feel more vulnerable, see others as untrustworthy or the world as a dangerous place.

It will most likely take time and a supportive environment for the Darwins to process these traumatic experiences. The chance to give evidence in the court case may have gone some way towards this.

It will be very difficult for this family to function again after events as dramatic as these, and the complete breakdown of trust. It would need everyone to truly want such unity for it even to begin to happen.

Dr Rachel Andrew is a chartered clinical psychologist

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