Embitterment and Bereavement: The Sewol Ferry Accident Example

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Objective: On Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 261 high school students on a field trip died in the sinking of the Sewol ferry. The bereaved family of the Sewol ferry accident experienced one of the most painful traumatic losses such as the sudden death of one’s child through an accident. This article reviewed and discussed embitterment related to traumatic loss through the example of the Sewol ferry accident. Method: Embitterment-related issues and problems in coping with the accident that is caused by societal factors were described. In addition, embitterment-related findings of several previous studies based on bereaved families’ mental health cohort study were reviewed. Results: Traumatic loss of the human-made ferry accident was accompanied with feelings of being cheated, injustice, incompetence, wrongdoing by a perpetrator, and the destruction of one’s belief and value system, causing severe embitterment. Embitterment was related to other mental health problems including depression, anxiety, and complicated grief. Conclusion: Social support and positive individual resource including optimism and wisdom can be helpful for recovery from posttraumatic embitterment. The goal of grief is to remember the decedent, understand the changes created by the loss, and determine how to reinvest in life. Embitterment may disturb the process of grief. Without the management of the embitterment, true grief may not be possible. The breakdown of value systems and severe embitterment should get more attention in future research.

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