One year ago, Madonna Badger awoke to a house full of choking smoke on Christmas morning. Her three young daughters, mother and father all perished. Since that time, Madonna has experienced the most horrific pain and trauma imaginable, as she describes, “blood coming from my eyes.”
I recently watched her interviewed with great interest – as I have wondered about her over the past year. It is mind-boggling to see how the psyche desperately struggles to make sense of events (the brain must always balance and reconcile itself, like a checkbook).
Miss Badger talked powerfully and emotionally about wanting to die for months after the incident. After several mental hospital stays, her emotional recovery finally begins as she starts to vividly dream about her children.
Miss Badger’s loss meets the definition of “complicated grief,” a grief more challenging to grapple with than typical bereavement, for these reasons: she witnessed the trauma, she was the sole survivor, and she was nearby yet unable to rescue her five family members. The evidence leading to a cause of fire was destroyed when the city demolished the remains of her burnt home, against her wishes; she’ll never really “know why or how it happened.” Her total belongings, photos, toys, and possessions - everything she knew and loved - were also taken in the fire. The final blow: her boyfriend may have inadvertently emptied hot ash into the garbage, causing the fire.
If a person is unable to reconcile themselves with such a tragedy, never finding resolution or acceptance of an event (“this really happened and nothing can change that fact”), no matter how dramatic in scale, then the psyche lives in constant distress between “what I wish was” and “what is.” Once the acceptance occurs and the brain has allowed two frayed ends to meet, post-trauma growth happens. This is when you’ll hear something like, “We never knew we could be so close,” “It strengthened our faith,” or, “He lived life to its fullest.” This indicates post-traumatic growth, a psychic shift of acceptance.
Watch her powerful description here – be sure to click on the video portion at bottom of NBC page.