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How to Cope With Losing a Family Member to a Sudden Accident

Written by Teresa Te on January 4, 2018

All deaths are tragic in their own way, and when that death strikes close to home, the ensuing weeks and months can be a major struggle to get through. It’s even worse if you’ve lost a family member to a sudden accident. Thankfully, there are some strategies that can help you get through even these tough times.

The Unique Tragedy of an Accidental Death

If you’ve lost a loved one to a sudden accident, you know the grieving process is complicated by a few unique factors:

  • Unexpectedness. Accidental deaths are, by definition, impossible to anticipate. This unexpectedness can make the death even more painful; you won’t get the chance to say goodbye, and you may be left with additional feelings of vulnerability.
  • Disorganization. When someone passes from old age or after a prolonged illness, they have months to years to get their affairs in order, organizing their accounts and estate, and setting up a clear will. Because accidental deaths don’t permit that chance, everything becomes a little cloudier.
  • Blame. Even if the death wasn’t anybody’s intention, you may still have feelings of blame or resentment toward any party who played a role in that death. Resolving your feelings of blame and anger can be especially hard.

So what can you do to regain control and get through the pain?

Key Coping Strategies

If you ever find yourself in this unfortunate position, there are some strategies that can help you process the pain:

1. Know that this process will be your own. Everybody deals with grief in their own, unique way. The process is even more complicated when you’re hit with a death unexpectedly, since you don’t get time to brace yourself. Some people get angry. Some withdraw and isolate themselves. Some feel neutral and distant. Let your feelings develop as they may, and acknowledge them. This path is yours, and yours alone, and no one can tell you how to grieve (so long as you’re not engaging in destructive behaviors).

2. Appreciate the times you had. When a loved one is taken too soon, it’s tempting to focus on all the times you could have had in the future. Instead, try to focus on all the times you did have in the past. Try to appreciate them, and be grateful for the years you were able to spend before the accident.

3. Consider the conditions of the accident. When you’ve recovered from the initial shock of the accident, consider the conditions and circumstances that led to the accident. Was this something that could have been prevented? Was someone indirectly at fault here, either through their own actions or through negligence? If so, you may consider taking legal action against their wrongful death. It may help you find peace with the accident and collect enough funds to manage its aftereffects.

4. Take time off. There’s going to be a lot to manage, both logistically and emotionally, so take some time off work. Most workplaces have specific bereavement leave, and those that don’t will likely permit some time off anyway. Don’t force yourself to go back to work too soon. You need time to process your feelings.

5. Avoid blaming yourself. Even if the accident had nothing to do with you, you may be tempted to blame yourself for not doing enough to prevent it. This is one of the worst cycles of thought you can fall into, so avoid it at all costs. This wasn’t your fault. You can’t change things.

6. Avoid substance use. It’s tempting to rely on substances like alcohol to deal with the stress of the loss, but it’s critical that you avoid this. These controlled substances won’t make the pain easier to deal with, and will only introduce more problems into your life.

7. Let your friends and family in. Your friends and family are there to help you. Don’t be afraid to ask them for help, even if it’s with something simple, like cooking dinner or getting groceries. When you’re ready, consider opening up to them about what you’re feeling, and try to get out of the house. If you’re tempted to shut everyone out and isolate yourself, fight back against that temptation.

8. Get therapy. Even if you’ve been resistant to getting therapy in the past, there’s no excuse not to see a therapist after you’ve lost a loved one to a sudden accident. You need to speak with a professional about what you’re feeling, and learn some specific coping strategies for your own perspectives and experiences. Finding a therapist in your area should only take a few steps, and you’ll likely feel better after the first session.

These steps are hard to get through, but it’s important that you take them one at a time, and slowly make progress toward a better emotional state. You don’t have to do this alone, but you owe it to yourself and to the memory of your loved one to take actionable efforts to make things better.