(Please note that the information contained here is a combination of knowledge from MADD and SADD) Please contact us for special Pamphlets on Grief as relates to Drink Driving deaths or injuries for adults, children, friends, or grandparents.
Many people, and even counselors, do not often know that it is appropriate (because of the kind of traumatic stress victims or families of drunk driving crashes go through) to experience intense, long lasting trauma. This can last from 4 to 7 years. A sudden death is more difficult to cope with than an expected one. It is even more traumatic when one is violently killed. In drinking and driving accidents, the recklessness, senseless and negligent nature of the accident make it even more difficult to understand and accept.
Grief is an experience that is different for each person. When a loved one is lost, each person will experience their grief differently.
The nature of one’s grief depends on a number of aspects:
• The way you learned to cope with the stress in your life before this tragedy.
• The quality of the relationship you had with the person who was killed.
• The circumstances under which your loved one was killed.
• The success you have dealing with the systems with which you interact.
• You religious beliefs and ethnic customs.
• The emotional support you have from your family and friends while grieving.
In the instance of an anticipated death the griever knows ahead of time that death is approaching. This may cause them to act differently from the griever whose death of a loved on is unexpected.
There are a number of stages that one may pass through when one learns of imminent death of a loved one. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are the stages through which most people pass when facing the anticipated death of a loved one. (Kubler –Ross’s stages were described for the families of children who were dying of cancer or a terminal illness.)
With unaccepted and violent deaths like murder, suicide or drunk driving the stages are completely different.
Marton Bard and Dawn Sangrey regard the following to be important stages through which one may pass: Initial disorganization, Shock, Struggles/recoil, and Readjustment.
Dr Therese Rando suggests the following three stages: Avoidance, Confrontation, and Re-establishment.
Nowhere does acceptance come in, as these deaths were preventable, unnecessary and mostly avoidable.
The stages of grief are not firm, predictable or concrete; they are merely guidelines or trends. The stages of grief are descriptive, and not prescriptive. It is important to remember to be patient and gentle with yourself when passing through different phases of grief.
In the instance of a traumatic and unexpected death there is no time to say ‘Goodbye’, ‘I’m sorry’, or ‘I love you’.
When people are seriously injured, they usually go into shock and don’t experience pain. The shock to the
You will not only miss the living presence of your loved one, but you may resent the fact that it was not respected by
A sudden or violent death is never timely. If your child is killed a part of you is lost too. It has been described as an amputation for the parent – they are alive but part of their body has been permanently removed.
Your potential to nurture and protect is no longer present. It seems terribly wrong to loose a child, as one feels that they should die before their children. It seems very wrong when this pattern is reversed.
If your mate is killed you may have suddenly lost your best friend, your lover, your co-parent, your primary confidant. It can be devastating to be forced to make major decisions alone as you grieve and maintain the family at the same time.
If your parent is killed you deeply regret that the death was an undignified one. It feels wrong to not be able to say goodbye, or thank you.
If your brother or sister is killed you may feel guilty for being alive, even if it doesn’t make sense. It can be especially difficult to face the death of a sibling because it may remind one of their own mortality.
The senselessness of the death is another difficult component to deal with. It is easier to understand death when someone’s body wears out with age or disease, but with a sudden, traumatic death it is clearly someone’s fault. Knowing that your loved one’s death could have been prevented can be one of the most painful aspects of you grief.
With drunk driving deaths, there are criminal justice implications. One may feel frustrated and lost as one faces procedures that are foreign to themselves.
In some countries the Criminal Justice System has effectively collapsed leading to the drunk driver being protected by the Law, and their actions seemingly condoned by the society.
“No rights for Victims”. MADD has worked hard to give the victims rights as well, and has specially trained Lawyers who go to Court with victims to assist them to see that justice is done. MADD has changed the mind set of the US Courts, and now prison sentences are mandatory for drunk drivers who kill or severely injure victims.
There is often a feeling in the community of: “Poor person – they did not mean to kill/injure. Forgive them.” “I have driven drunk before! It could have been me driving – so I will support them.”
One’s financial security may also be threatened because emergency medical care and funerals cost money. Missing work and battling to concentrate may threaten your job security
Recovering from an unexpected death requires a great deal of patience,time and hard work. You will never be exactly the same again.
Getting better means solving problems and completing tasks in your daily life; sleeping well and having energy; feeling good enough about yourself to be hopeful about the rest of your life, and being able to enjoy the pleasurable and beautiful things in life.
You will never forget what happened. You shouldn’t worry that you might forget your loved one, because you won’t. Over time you will be able to remember the happy memories more than the painful ones.
Denial is an important part of grieving. It is normal and functional. It helps to ward off the full impact of trauma until you are able to absorb it. The initial impact of traumatic news may cause one to experience shock. This is much like receiving a general anesthetic. One may find themselves in a state of numbness. You may also not be able to remember how you functioned during the initial days.
Many survivors are surprised to find that they feel anxious, fearful and powerless in the aftermath of a killing. They may also feel that they and their remaining loved ones are more vulnerable than others. It may be hard work to think rationally and go out as it may frighten you. It may be especially difficult to trust other drivers again, or to feel safe in a car for a long time.
Stress following trauma can make you physically sick. You may lose your appetite, feel weak, exhausted but unable to sleep, and your sex drive may diminish. Many survivors feel generalized pain, stomach aches or heaviness in their chest. Some survivors begin to think of suicide as their symptoms escalate whishing they could die too, to escape the pain. It is very important at these times to have friends and relatives who care.
People who are grieving often become accident prone, which can happen because you are preoccupied with your loss. When driving you should be very aware of your poor concentration, and so, should drive defensively. One should be very careful if using tobacco or alcohol. One should monitor their use because often one’s use increases when grieving. Alcohol is a depressant, which will only make one’s grief worse and prolong it. Short term medication may be necessary in some cases.
You may be surprised at the intensity of you anger for the killer of your loved one. Many offenders do not feel remorse, but some do say sorry. Often
It is difficult to feel some feelings, but feelings are neither right nor wrong, they simply are. It is important though, to not react destructively in response to your feelings. It is important to force yourself to think rationally. You may find that your anger is not only aimed at
Everyone views forgiveness differently. Different life experiences, beliefs and religious convictions lead to different views on forgiveness. Christianity emphasizes God’s compassion for the abused and oppressed, not the oppressors. Love is unconditional, forgiveness is not. It is not easy to forgive; instead it is a highly complex matter. Forgiveness can’t be granted at a whim, it is a much deeper and more intricate issue.
The injustice of the loss of your loved one, the deep hurt and the loss of future dreams may lead to rage. It is helpful to talk about it with someone who cares. Allowing yourself to express these feelings will enable you to free your mind and be more open and realistic about planning for the future. If you try to suppress your anger you may find that you experience physical symptoms. Headaches, stomach aches, colitis, back aches, and high blood pressure amongst other symptoms can arise due to anger.
Positive physical activity helps one to overcome anger.
External trauma is a valid basis of continuing distress. As denial and shock wear off, you may experience feelings that are foreign to you. Particular memories of the trauma may continually intrude your thoughts, or you may have recurring nightmares. You may feel that the external world doesn’t have meaning anymore, and you may feel like withdrawing, you may become absent minded, battle to concentrate and become confused. “If only…” becomes a familiar theme, and you may struggle with guilt for some time.
Another tough job you will have in grieving is to look rationally at how your beliefs make you feel guilty. It is important for you to not exaggerate your role in your loved one’s death. Feeling less guilty won’t necessarily take away your sadness or anger, but it can alleviate a big load off your shoulders.
At first, some feel that they may never be happy again, and they go through a period where they are not ready to get better. Others are eager to get better and find ways to do it. Either way, it may be helpful to look to others who have gone through similar ordeals as they may provide you with encouraging models.
It is likely that you will experience “grief spasms” from time to time, amongst good days something may bring up a grief spasm. Anniversaries, birthdays, and holidays may be difficult times. It seems strange, but grief spasms can be seen as a celebration of a relationship that meant so much to you that episodes of grief can still overcome you from time to time. As time goes by, after about 3 years, grief spasms will be less frequent.
It is important, in the process of getting better, to focus on life more than on death. By having experienced trauma, you will be able to look at life and keep it in
In some cases, enduring trauma leads to activity to correct some of the wrongs involved in a sudden, violent death. Most survivors want to prevent it for others. You can join an organization like MADD (or in South Africa SADD, South Africans Against Drunk Driving), to help you focus your anger and grief in a constructive way.
• Understand that the shock and injustice of losing someone you love to a sudden and violent death can result in grief that lasts longer, and has a wider range of feelings. It is important to be patient with yourself; many people grieve for months to years. This can last as long as 4 – 7 years.
• Maintain regular contact with your doctor for a year or two, to ensure that you don’t acquire a stress-related physical condition.
• Try to delay major decisions for at least a year or more. Major decisions can create additional stress.
• Feel your feelings, whether they are rage, sadness, vengeance or others. Regard it as a positive step that you are feeling and that you are not numb anymore. Find a way to express your feelings, through writing; exercise, talking etc. also try to think rationally and to act responsibly.
• Look realistically at your guilt. If you are guilty in part for what happened, try to forgive yourself. Don’t carry a load of guilt that isn’t applicable to you.
• Try to be understanding of family members who grieve differently. Talk about what you feel, and encourage others to do the same.
• Be patient with others who say inept things to you, these comments are not made to hurt you. Most people want to help you, but may not know the words to say.
• Remember that no one can fill the shoes of your loved one who has died. It is unrealistic to think that someone else or activities can fill the vacuum in your heart.
• Seek support and understanding from others who have gone through similar kinds of trauma. Join an organization like Compassionate Friends, for those who have lost children.
• Realize that getting better doesn’t mean that you didn’t love your loved one enough. Nor does it mean you will forget them. When and how you recover is up to you.
Death of a Child
THE COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS Offering friendship and understanding to bereaved Parents, Siblings and Grandparents
NEWSLETTER – NOVEMBER 2012
TCF Centre Address: 122 Athol Street Highlands North Johannesburg 2192
Telephone (011) 440-6322 Fax (011) 887-9494 P O Box 323 Highlands North 2037
My dear Friends,
I bumped into an old acquaintance, a bereaved mother too. She told me that the son of a friend had a terminal illness and would soon die. “What’s worse,” she wondered, “her situation or ours?” This is what she was comparing:
Our boys had died young, teenagers, before their lives had really begun. We did not get to see them as adults and have none of their children to love. Their deaths were sudden. There was no opportunity to say goodbye. This other mother had seen her son mature, marry, have a family. She will be there to bid farewell.
The bitterness is understandable but comparisons are not fair. The soon-to-be bereaved woman is older than we were when we faced loss, definitely less capable now of managing her changed circumstances. She sees her beloved son suffer and who is to say that is less or more than the shock of sudden death. Because she’s known her son for a longer time she’s become more dependant on him and his absence will be as huge as our sons.
All loss is tragic; there’re no score cards or brownie points. We, the families left behind, may walk different paths but we are similar in the pain we feel, the resentment that this has happened to blight our futures, the problems we confront with our circle of family and friends, and within ourselves. For us all, irrespective of the length of time we shared with our children and siblings, the longing for them and for another scenario is what is relevant. Each of us in our own way has to search for some meaning in sorrow, seek how to cope with tragedy and continue to live every day left to us with courage. Each of us wishes for peace and some measure of happiness. And with the maturity of age and/or insight we do find then even if they are not quite what we once desired.
Much love, Rosemary Dirmeik
Depression after Loss of a Child
Feelings of depression and despair after the loss of a loved one, especially a child are normal but very confusing for the person experiencing them, as well as those around them. For the parent who lost a child after a long battle with an illness, it is normal to feel that they could have or should have done more, tried yet a different doctor, not have tried that experimental medication, or perhaps should have tried it. For the parent losing a child to a sudden tragic accident, the feelings of guilt range from “I should have stopped it. …? I should have driven …? I should have …? These guilty feelings in both situations are normal. We are the protectors and caretakers of our children, and when things go wrong we blame ourselves. If other parties are involved in our child’s death, (a doctor’s possible negligence, a negligent child care worker, or negligent driver) it puts a different twist on our feelings, leaving us angry, but with a focus. If our child’s death was due to their own poor judgment, there is no ONE person on whom to place the blame and the guilt abounds. On the Loss of Child Boards we have talked to numerous times about our feelings of depression and despair after the death of our children. Society places a huge burden on our backs for these feelings, believing we should snap out of it … life goes on … we have other children, or perhaps we could have another baby. I have talked to parents about their difficulty in finding a compassionate and well informed counsellor to help deal with the particularly painful feeling of losing a child. One topic that constantly surfaces is our feelings of depression, and our fear of being labelled as crazy for these feelings, therefore, too often, many parents especially the fathers go without treatment due to the stereotypes society places on those seeking help. Many parents cannot focus on daily living activities, and have a hard time even opening the mail, bills can be left unpaid due to the
parent's lack of energy to write cheques or go to the post office. Family members often are in different stages of grief at any given time and often there is family rife that can be harmful to the marriage and family as a whole. If the deceased child died from illness the surviving child has probably been placed on the back burner, so to speak, while the parents attended to the bedside of the sick child. If the deceased child died in an accident, the parents now seek to protect the remaining child often placing impossible restrictions on their activity. The siblings themselves often go through survivor’s guilt, don’t know how they can live up the idolized status of their deceased brother or sister. They are here and living, but feel particularly unnoticed. They may act out or begin to take on the personality of the deceased sibling. Grief is real, there is no way of avoiding it for us, and it consumes our very existence.
Grief mimics depression with symptoms which include eating and intestinal disorders, weight loss, and weight gain, headaches, hyper stimulation from certain sounds such as telephones ringing and sirens. Sleep disorders, nightmares and occasional night terrors, panic and anxiety in crowds.
Many parents will initially entertain thoughts of suicide; these are usually fleeting thoughts but if they persist MUST be managed medically.
Many parents who lose their child to sudden accidental deaths experience post traumatic stress similar to that experienced by Veterans of war. This can include “pop-up” visions of the accident even if the parent didn’t witness the accident itself, reliving the moment they had to identify their child’s body, or the moment they were told of the death. All these experiences are symptoms of situational depression. Treatment must be provided by a competent therapist. Don’t be afraid to shop around, if a particular therapist isn’t helpful, move on to another. Don’t be afraid to “interview” the therapist, ask questions about:
I hope this article is useful. It comes from my heart, with my own experiences since the accidental death of my 17 year old son and with a bit of knowledge from my experience as a former Hospice Nurse. [Cindy Dix]
From Compassionate Friends website .... www.tcfcape.co.za/
Will I Ever Get Over This death of my child to cancer?
"Well-meaning friends and family might tell a grieving person they need to "move on" after a loss. Unfortunately, that type of advice can sometimes make people hesitate to talk about their loss, or make people think they're grieving wrong or too long, or that they're not normal. It can help to remember that the grieving process is very personal and individual — there's no right or wrong way to grieve. We all take our own time to heal. It's important for grieving people to not drop out of life, though. If you don't like the idea of moving on, maybe the idea of "keeping on" seems like a better fit. Sometimes it helps to remind yourself to just keep on doing the best you can for now. If you feel sad, let yourself have your feelings and try not to run away from your emotions. But also keep on doing things you normally would such as being with friends, caring for your pet going to work or working out. Going forward and healing from grief doesn't mean forgetting about the person you lost. Getting back to enjoying your life doesn't mean you no longermiss the person. And how long it takes until you start to feel better isn't a measure of how much you loved the person. With time, the loving support of family and friends, and your own positive actions, you can find ways to cope with even the deepest loss. When I think of the horror movie "The Ring," I remember what one of my friends said, which explained why she was so afraid of the movie: "It doesn't choose those who are young or old, or sick or healthy, it just chooses. Randomly." This is how I think of cancer. It has no predetermined plan. It does not matter if you are old or young. I had the perfect life. It was a bubble that could not be pierced by unhappiness. No one died, no one was sick; we were all happy and loving life. Then I discovered my son had cancer. No matter how much I told myself he could live, that he might not die, somehow I still felt as if it was a death sentence. He was so young, only 6. He fought so hard. Whenever I feel my own life taking a turn for the worse, as if things will never get better, I remember how many years he lived fighting such a scary and difficult disease. When he died, he died with a huge party going on around him, with all his friends and adult family. I honestly don't know how I coped. I never cried alone. I had the compassion of my friends and the support of my family."
From www.compassionatefriends.org.za/ (JHB)
"My dear Friends,
How do you explain premature death to young children? How do you explain without frightening them? How do you explain what you yourself can’t understand? Comparisons with nature – an old tree dying, leaves falling, flowers turning to seed – and images of a safe, happy Heaven don’t always stop the questions and the fears. Children are sensitive to nuances and your sadness does not go by unnoticed and worried about.
Accidental deaths, illness, violent loss, drownings, possibly create the most anxiety. If my sibling, friend, cousin, aunt or uncle died like this, could it happen to me too? It’s an enormous concern and challenge to bereaved families to cope with this situation. I don’t have easy, or indeed any, answers. Each of you with your own beliefs and values, your knowledge of your children and grandchildren, and your acute sensitivity to their needs, will find some way to
approach the problem. It’s daunting and honestly there will be some stumbling as you search for what is best.
However intimidating that realization is, it’s far better to communicate as openly as possible as you try to answer all those troubling questions. TCF has books, some written specifically for children, others to guide adults, that could assist you.
There’s one aspect of this quagmire that’s even harder perhaps to tackle – suicide. How do you talk about depression, differentiate to young, inexperienced minds between feeling sad and despair, remove stigma without those side-effects too awful to contemplate. It’s an horrendous task and I am awed by those who meet it. Speaking to someone who has faced the dilemma and done so magnificently, I learnt the importance of spelling out that mental illness is a sickness, often incurable and one that overwhelms the victims. You who have an inkling of the
desperation of these sad boys and girls know the hurt of ignorance and prejudice. You reject those judgmental views and it becomes your duty to teach youngsters about the nature of depression which is like a cancer of the mind and the soul, to remove the superstitions and stigmas, and to explore the ways of extending tenderness and compassion to the sufferers. Of course it’s very important to inform children of the many resources available that help to prevent further tragedies.
If this is one of your many burdens, may you be able to manage it with the same courage and strength you are bringing to every aspect of your mourning. Much love, ROSEMARY DIRMEIK "