Coping with accidental death or injury


Coping with accidental death or injury

Document with title Wrongful Death o a wooden surface.

Accidentally harming another human being is one of the most
distressing experiences most of us can even imagine, and coping poses many challenges. Those of us who have caused accidental death or injury (CADIs) experience a wide range of emotional and cognitive difficulties. The first stage in  healing is to learn to cope with these feelings, so that you can feel better, think more clearly, and function more effectively.

I would hallucinate while doing the dishes. All of a sudden it wasn’t
bubbly dishwater but bubbly blood coming out toward me. I was
afraid of being left alone. I was afraid of the children leaving the
house. I was hyper-alert, hyper-vigilant.
[S., accidentally killed a bicyclist in a car crash]

I had recurrent thoughts of the accident and a sense of reliving the
experience. Although I felt very emotional, I was unable to cry.
Sleeping was almost impossible. Death felt like the only way out of
my situation.
[N., accidentally killed a motorcyclist in a car crash]

I stayed in my room for a whole month. I cried. I said, “Why did this
have to happen?” Images would come to my head. I would see the
blood on her.”
[T., accidentally shot and seriously injured his girlfriend]

If your accident occurred recently, you may experience some or all of the symptoms of acute stress. Difficulty coping with unresolved distress can become “Post-traumatic Stress Disorder” (PTSD), a common response to trauma. PTSD can appear soon after your
accident, or it may appear years later. Although exact statistics are
not available, I estimate that at least 25% of CADI’s develop PTSD.
Many more have some troubling symptoms.

Reactions to trauma

In the first few days or weeks after your accident, you may experience some of the following symptoms. These signal that you have been through a major trauma and need to exercise all your coping skills. Over time, the symptoms often go away. If they persist, or if they interfere with your daily life more than you want, you can obtain treatment.

1) Feeling numb, disconnected, detached, or dissociated from the
world around you or from yourself.

2) Sleep problems — having a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep,
or staying awake. You may have nightmares.

3) Flashbacks, thoughts, images, and memories of the accident may
dominate your inner life or interrupt and intrude on other thoughts
and activities.

4) A high stress level, which can interfere with daily life and create
physical problems such as an upset stomach.

5) Sadness, grief, or depression. This may be pervasive or it may
come in waves. Guilt and shame may be closely related.

6) Fear, including fears you know to be irrational. You may want to
avoid certain places, settings, activities, or situations. You may feel
jumpy and startle easily. You may be “hyper-vigilant;” for instance,
you might need to check and re-check to make sure something or
somebody is safe.

7) Memory problems, including an inability to remember certain
aspects of the accident.

8) Irritation — you may feel more impatient, have a “shorter fuse,” be
quicker to anger.

9) Difficulty being loving, tender, or sexual.

10) A sense that you can never know happiness again, that you are a
“bad” person, and that the world is a “bad” and unsafe place.

What you can do

1) Be kind to yourself. The pain you feel is evidence of your humanity.

2) Keep in mind that you will not always feel this way,  that you can
find a path to peace.

3) Don’t be afraid to ask for help — from doctors, counselors, clergy,
friends and family. Some hold back because they feel that they
deserve to suffer, but what is the point of turning yourself into
another victim of the accident?  Definitely seek help if: (a) you feel suicidal, (b) you worry you cannot control your anger, (c) distress related to your accident interferes with your life (work, home life, relationships, mood, thinking, health, etc.) for more than one month.

4) Do not abuse alcohol or drugs. You can ask a doctor to prescribe
medication to help you cope.

5) Do not neglect your overall health — try to eat sensibly, drink lots
of water, and exercise.

6) Be wary of advice that does not feel right to you. There are many
paths up this mountain to peace, and you can select the route that
feels right for you.

7) Review the Links and Good Books sections of this
website for additional information about acute and post-traumatic

Visit for more information

  1. My 17 year old daughter caused a very serious accident and injured a man on a motorcycle. She didn’t see that he was stopped and waiting to turn because either he didn’t have his turn signal on or she didn’t see it. I feel so much pain for her guilt. She seems so depressed and I feel that. My hope is that the other driver will walk away but that is unknown at this time. I really just got on here to understand how to help her cope.

  2. My older son, age 10 at the time, was hit and killed by a backing-up garbage truck whose driver did not see him coasting his bicycle into the street right behind the truck. My younger son, age 4 at the time, was standing on the sidewalk and witnessed the accident. It was the single most horrible day of my life. That day, July 7, 1970, has continued to linger in my consciousness ever since. I went through all of the PTSD symptoms as described above, except that in 1970 no one knew what PTSD was, so there was nowhere to turn for help. For a year I could’t sleep, and developed a nervous and uncontrollable tic in one eyelid due to sleep deprivation. When someone tried to talk to me, sometimes the words wouldn’t register and I would stare at them blankly. Otherwise, I would start to babble just to fill the void. I didn’t want anyone to know how crazy and disconnected I felt. I thought I was floating through life as an invisible observer rather than an active participant. Daily, I had insane flashbacks that would come over me all of a sudden. The strongest one was thinking I was in my son’s body at the moment of his death, living over and over again seeing those gigantic truck tires coming at him as he fell and was pulled underneath them. I thought if I relived the experience for him, as if taking it away from him, somehow it would make him come back to life. People tried to “help” me by staying away. Some “helpfully” suggested that I have another child, as if my son could be replaced. Mostly, I learned, that the fact of losing a child is incomprehensible to any sentient being. On some level I came to understand why some friends couldn’t come by or call. But it hurt just the same. At that time, I also learned who my real friends were and that was a real surprise and a lesson for me. In the midst of that traumatic year I experienced the deepest loneliness of my life. In the years since, my second son has said that, even as a 4 year old back then, he could sense my drawing away from him and keeping some sort of distance. All I can say in response is that I was terrified of losing him, too, and thought I should not try and be close to him, or anyone, in case of another tragic accident. I didn’t think I could handle anything of that proportion ever again. It was an absolutely crazy period to live through. People are lucky today that there are resources like this site to turn to. In 1970 I had to learn to pull myself up and out of the morass all alone. In the end the awfulness of my son’s death and the aftermath have made me a more aware person. One of my friends, following my son’s death, wanted to help but had no idea how. So she baked and brought me a blackberry cobbler. It was a simple, touching gesture that, because of her act of kindness, in some way set me on the path to healing. In the years since, I have discovered a talent for helping others in distress, and giving comfort to those who didn’t think anyone cared. That is the gift and the blessing that has come out of such an unthinkable experience. So if I have anything at all to be thankful for in all of this tragedy, it is to have become a deeper, more sentient and appreciative individual.

  3. There are lots of sad posts here. I lost a friend, 25 years old in a car accident last week. It’s tough and we miss him but he lived a very full life, more than most live in 50 years or more. If Oliver was here reading this, he would want you all to work hard to get through this any enjoy this world. You have to forgive yourself and deserve the best. Its not always easy but there’s always a way.

  4. Hey everyone really needing some help right now . I am a 23 year old that recently got in a car accident November 29th 2017 Ita only been a couple of days but I have been going crazy . I had left my house intoxicated around 11 pm and while I was driving I turned into a house and completely ruined my car thank god the house I ran into was empty with no one in there I didn’t hit or injuries anyone I guess I’m glad it happened only to me . I have stitches on my forehead as well as my lip and bruises the cops said that I’m super lucky I’m alive right now because the car pretty much split in half I have no memory on what happened . I feel like I ruined my life as well as my mom’s life I’ve been feeling depressed and alone . I have a almost 3 year old son and I’m mentally just not here for him even tho he does live with me . I can’t even look at my face. Really needing some positive in my life right now cause all thinking about is how I’m always failing .

    1. Hi

      Time is a powerful factor. Train yourself to never drive intoxicated again, I would suggest. Nor sleepy, nor in any condition that can compromise other people safety. If you can do this, I think you will feel safer.

      It is a good thing that you didn’t hurt anyone, and that you understand you could have. Face this as an opportunity. An opportunity to improve in some aspects. We are limited to doing the best we can, so try to do your best. Breath. Think how things could have been different, and if they had been different, you would be wishing to be in this situation you are now.

      That is the positive side of your story.

      Stay strong. Focus on the important things.



      1. This post and people’s comments have helped me. Two days ago I caused a car accident. It was stop and go traffic on the highway, and I looked at my phone while I was accelerating. I was going over 40 mph. Maybe 50. I don’t know. I slammed into the car in front of me, and that car slammed into the car in front of them, and then another one got tapped in the front. I caused all that. The guilt and shame is constant. My airbags didn’t deploy so I hit and cut my head pretty bad, and sprained my ankle. I don’t remember much of the scene, but there was a toddler in the car in front of me. The mom took him out immediately after the crash, and from what I remember he looked ok. Everyone was ok I think, except for me. I was taken to the hospital. I keep thinking of that little boy. I keep hoping he is truly ok. I have so much shame and sadness. I’m a good driver, and yet it just took a moment. I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know why. I feel so stupid, I feel like a failure. I’ve been unhappy in my life in general with my job especially and this just reinforced more feelings of failure and worry. I have anxiety in general so this obviously isn’t good for my mental state I have all the time. I keep thinking about those other people and the possible injury and inconvenience I caused. As I said, nobody else was taken to the hospital, and I saw the mother holding the child. From what I remember they seemed to be ok, but what about whiplash? I worry that I hurt the child. I worry that they’re gonna come after me financially for medical expenses, which I can’t afford. My car was totaled. I’m not sure if the car in front of me was totaled. I’m just not sure. I feel so sad. I feel so pointless. In that moment of impact, and right after it, I can totally see how people can die in car accidents. It’s just so easy and all it takes is a second, and then it’s done. Life is so fragile , what’s the point of it? What’s the point of all this suffering and stress (like at my job or just in life in general) when it can just end so suddenly? Big questions have come up from this. Like what’s the point of life, why am I spending my life constantly worrying about stuff and my own purpose. It all seems pointless. I have so much fear. So much fear and so much sadness, and the shame. I feel like I’ll never stop worrying. I feel like I’ll never stop failing. I don’t know how to move on and find happiness or purpose in life.

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