Emotional and physical responses following a road crash bereavement

Emotional responses following the death of someone close in a road crash vary. However, as well as sadness, there are a range of emotions commonly experienced and reported by people bereaved suddenly and violently. This page lists some of those emotions. Knowing these emotions and feelings are commonly experienced can help road crash victims to cope, and help other people to provide support.  

I can’t believe it has happened

It is common to feel as if it has not really happened – to expect a person who has died to walk through the door.. It is common to find yourself talking about a person as if they are still alive. It can be particularly hard to bear when waking up and realising it is true.

It may seem so unfair and overwhelming

‘Why has this happened to me?’ is a common thought. It is common to feel helpless, bewildered, powerless and overwhelmed.

This can be upsetting and debilitating. It may be harder to get up and get on with normal jobs. It may be harder to avoid making mistakes when doing the simplest things. If possible, it is good advice to avoid high risk activities such as driving or using dangerous machinery, or be extra careful when doing these things.

I feel scared

Fear and anxiety are common emotions. It is normal to worry, more than usual, about risks around us, and the chances of death. It is common to be scared to go out. It is common to suffer feelings of panic, anxiety and confusion if in a busy or noisy environment, for example around traffic or people. It is common to feel jumpy and nervous in such situations. 

Frightening thoughts, dreams or flashbacks

Vivid thoughts and dreams about the crash, the person who has died, or a fear, are common. Flashbacks to the time when the death happened may be experienced. This means it feels like it is happening again. Not everyone suffers flashbacks, but they can happen at any time and be frightening. Many people find it helps to talk about thoughts, dreams or flashbacks.

If only...

It is common to keep mulling over the circumstances leading up to the death and wondering if anything could have been done to stop it happening. ‘If only...’ is a common and particularly painful thought. Suddenly bereaved people often wish they had told a person who has died how much they love them, or told them this more often. Thoughts like these may lead to strong feelings of guilt that can be hard to explain to others. Many people find it is better to express feelings than to hold them back.

I forget things and am disorganised

Because of the enormous stress of a bereavement in a road crash, it may be hard to take in information, or recall important facts, remember to do things, or do things as well as at other times. This can be particularly challenging if there are urgent responsibilities that need to be undertaken, such as work or caring for dependents.

Suddenly bereaved people are often scared they will forget things about the person who has died. They are scared they will forget their voice, things they said, or their smell.

I feel angry

It is common to feel angry. There may be someone or something to blame for the crash. Sometimes, there is a feeling of anger directed towards the person who has died, for no longer being here, or for causing the crash themselves. It is also common to get worked up over minor everyday things that normally can be coped with, but now seem unbearable. For people who do not normally get angry, these feelings may be particularly distressing. Anger is a normal emotion and nothing to feel guilty about, but it can feel very upsetting and result in feelings of guilt and further unhappiness.

Nobody understands

People might say inappropriate, hurtful things to you such as ‘these things happen’, or ‘you’ll get over it’. They may talk about their own bereavements that happened in circumstances you consider less devastating and of no relevance to your situation. Some people may even behave as if nothing has happened. These people may want to help, but not know how. Many people can help. 'Getting help from others' gives suggestions on how to seek constructive help from others.

Physical symptoms

Many people who suffer a sudden bereavement and the associated shock find they suffer from physical symptoms as well as strong emotions. The trauma can place intense and prolonged stresses. Sleeping may be hard. This may lead to tiredness and exhaustion. Heart palpitations, feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating, tremors and choking sensations are common.

Digestive problems may occur, such as diarrhoea, or struggling to eat well or often enough. Muscles may tense up. This may cause localised pains, such as headaches, stomach pains and backache. Women may find they suffer extra pain during menstruation, or menstruate at unusual times.

Some people don't feeling like doing anything, or even feel hyperactive.

Some people have difficulty speaking. Stuttering and jumbling words is common.

Whatever emotional or physical symptoms are experienced, understanding they may be connected to the bereavement can help people to cope and enable others to help them. 

Lost and different futures

When a loved one dies suddenly, the future can seem pointless and bleak. Plans and hopes may be ruined, and deep sadness means it may be difficult to imagine a different yet happy future. The stress of sudden bereavement can also be so exhausting that every day can feel like an impossible mountain to climb. It is important to know that it is possible to recover from the shock and a range of powerful emotions and physical reactions through self-care and seeking the help of others. Many people also find it helpful to know it is normal for suddenly bereaved people to go on to lead full and happy lives, while still remembering with deep sorrow what happened.

Copyright Brake 2017