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Bonding Over Shared Trauma: Background information when reading Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance

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Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance

A Novel

by Alison Espach

Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach X
Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 352 pages

    Apr 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Liv Pasquarelli
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About this Book

Bonding Over Shared Trauma

This article relates to Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance

Print Review

People comforting each other in group therapyIn Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance by Alison Espach, main characters Sally and Billy form an unbreakable bond after they both witness the death of Sally's older sister Kathy, who is Billy's girlfriend. Research on shared traumatic experiences shows a clear pattern in which people who have endured the same trauma often have a strong magnetic bond, despite the popular notion that shared grief tears love apart.

It's important to first understand the difference between the psychological concept of trauma bonding and the relationship between people who have shared traumatic experiences. Trauma bonding is a bond formed between an abuser and the abused. This is also commonly known as Stockholm Syndrome.

The bond over a shared traumatic experience is completely different, like the relationship between Sally Holt and Billy Barnes in Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance. In Billy and Sally's case, they are bonded in a way they can't be with the other people in their lives, because they both witnessed Kathy's death.

There is an often cited statistic originating from the 1977 book The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Schiff that claims that 90% of marriages end in divorce after the death of a child. This statistic has established a commonly held notion that shared experience of trauma, death and grief will cause an irreparable rift between two people. This couldn't be further from the truth.

The 90% statistic in Schiff's book is not cited nor backed up by any reliable sources. Since 1977, bereavement research has become an emerging psychological field, leading to more concrete answers on how shared traumatic experiences can shift relationships. In a 1998 study by Reiko Schwab titled "A child's death and divorce: Dispelling the myth," the author combined numerous bereavement studies and found that couples that experienced the loss of a child had a relatively low rate of divorce at only around 20%. A 2006 study by bereavement group The Compassionate Friends found the divorce rate in this situation to be even lower, at 16%. This data suggests that loss and grief can bring people even closer together rather than tearing them apart.

After witnessing the death of a loved one like Sally and Billy do in Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance, witnesses are likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Common symptoms of PTSD are nightmares, which Sally and Billy discuss at length in the book, and isolation from peers, which is also demonstrated in the story. In the book Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders, the authors discuss the fact that group therapy is an excellent option for those suffering from the disorder, explaining, "Group therapy offers a direct antidote to the isolation and social disengagement that characterize Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder."

As teenagers with grieving, disengaged parents, Sally and Billy don't have the resources to seek out a therapy group of others who have experienced loss and trauma on the level they have. But they develop a strong bond over their shared loss that carries them through some difficult times in their lives.

Filed under Medicine, Science and Tech

Article by Liv Pasquarelli

This "beyond the book article" relates to Notes on Your Sudden Disappearance. It originally ran in June 2022 and has been updated for the April 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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