The death of someone close in a road crash is devastating. It is not only incredibly sad, but it is also the worst shock of all.
This page lists emotions and feelings often experienced in addition to sadness. You may experience some or all of these emotions and feelings at different times and to different degrees.
Knowing these emotions and feelings are normal at this time may, in a small but significant way, help you to cope with them.
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 or call on the phone. It is common to find yourself talking about a person as if they are still alive.
It can be particularly hard to bear each morning when waking up and realising it is true. It may seem so unfair. ‘Why has this happened to me?’ is a common thought.
I feel helpless
It is common to feel helpless, bewildered, powerless and overwhelmed. This can be upsetting and debilitating.
It may be hard to get up and get on with normal activities.
You may also find yourself making simple mistakes when doing the simplest things.
It is wise to avoid high risk activities such as driving or using dangerous machinery. Be extra careful if you feel you have to do these things.
I feel scared
You may feel anxious and fearful. It is normal to worry more than usual that other people, or you, will die too.
It is common to be scared to go out. It is common to suffer feelings of panic, anxiety and confusion if in a busy environment such as around roads or in a shopping centre or train station. You may feel jumpy and nervous in such situations. (See Getting through each day).
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, or when you heard about it, may be experienced. This means it feels like it is happening again. Not everyone suffers flashbacks, but if you do, they may happen at any time and be frightening.
Many people find it helps to talk about thoughts, dreams or flashbacks. 'Getting help from others' gives advice about talking to others.
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.
Crying may help – many people find it is better to express feelings than to hold back the tears.
I am struggling to get things done
You may feel you are slower at doing things, or you don’t do things as well as normally.
You may find it harder than normal to understand information you are told, recall important facts, and remember to do things. It may be particularly hard trying to juggle more than one task at a time while also staying calm.
As well as grieving, many people bereaved by road crashes have to spend time doing complex tasks such as organising a funeral or dealing with a person’s will.
You may also have to go to work, or have domestic responsibilities such as caring for dependents.
If anyone else can help you, let them share the work. Sometimes, just telling someone all the things you need to do, and writing them down as a list, can help you decide priorities and then tackle things one job at a time.
I worry I will forget them
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 how they smelt.
There are suggestions about how to keep someone's memory alive in Getting through each day.
I feel angry
It is common to have feelings of anger. There may be someone or something to blame for the crash. Or you may even feel angry towards the person who has died because they have gone, or for some other reason. 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. However, if you are concerned that your anger is being taken out on people close to you, or having other negative effects on you or others, there is advice in Getting through each day and Getting help from others.
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.
Many people who suffer a sudden bereavement and the associated shock find they suffer from physical symptoms, as well as strong emotions.
The trauma of your experience can place intense and prolonged pressure on your body. Heart palpitations, feeling faint or dizzy, excessive sweating, tremors and choking sensations are common.
Digestive problems may occur, such as diarrhoea, or you may struggle to eat well or often enough. Muscles may tense up. This may cause localised pains, such as headaches, chest pain, stomach pains and backache, or a sense of heaviness or weakness. Women may find they suffer extra pain during menstruation, or menstruate at unusual times.
You may have difficulty sleeping. This may lead to tiredness and exhaustion. You may feel like you can’t do anything, or even feel hyperactive.
You may have difficulty speaking. Stuttering and jumbling your words is common.
Whatever your physical symptoms, understanding they are connected to your bereavement can help you cope with them. Over time they should subside. Getting through each day and Getting help from others include useful advice on recovery.
Lost and different futures
When someone dies suddenly who was at the centre of your world, the future can seem pointless and bleak. Your plans and hopes may be ruined, and your 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 you can recover from the shock by looking after yourself and seeking help.
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 sorrow what happened.