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Understanding Car Accidents and Grief

Breaking Down Car Accidents and Grief

Suddenly losing a person you love with no warning at all often makes people feel like they are living out their worst nightmares. For people that have lost family or friends in vehicle accidents, dealing with the impact of sudden loss as part of their grieving process can be very difficult. However, if you’ve lost somebody in a crash, it’s important to know that you aren’t alone. Many people deal with fatal car accidents and the grief that they cause.

A Common Problem

Every year, 1.3 million people around the world lose their lives in a car accident. This means that there are around 3,287 auto accident fatalities every day. Out of these 3,287 deaths, just under one-third are people under the age of 25. Not only do these accidents happen often, but they aren’t an uncommon way to die. Statistics show that car accidents are the ninth leading cause of death in the world, accounting for 2.2 percent of all fatalities. Furthermore, car accident deaths are on the rise and are predicted to be the fifth leading cause of death by the year 2030.

Most people don’t think that they’ll be involved in a car accident on any given day, and it may seem like crashes almost never happen in your area. However, you may want to consider the following statistics:

  • 1,600 children under age 15 die in car accidents annually.
  • 8,000 drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 die in car accidents annually.
  • 27 people die every day in US DUI accidents.
  • 211 children died in DUI accidents in 2010.
  • 62 percent of those children were riding with an intoxicated driver.
  • Car accidents are the number one cause of death for teenagers, and one-third of these incidents involve alcohol.
  • Mothers Against Drunk Driving has shown that one out of every three people will be involved in a drunk driving accident at some point in their life.

Top Causes of Car Accidents

Car accidents can easily cause serious injuries, especially when drivers and occupants don’t take proper precautions like obeying traffic laws and wearing seatbelts. However, there are many different factors that can cause accidents, and a lot of them simply aren’t under the control of the people involved. The top causes of deadly car accidents include:

  • Distracted driving
  • Speeding
  • DUI
  • Reckless driving
  • Weather conditions
  • Running red lights and stop signs
  • Inexperienced drivers
  • Driving at night

Other common causes include dangerous lane changing, driving into oncoming traffic, unsafe turning, fatigued driving, road rage, tire blowouts, and more.

Because so many factors can affect your safety, it isn’t easy to predict what will happen each time you go out for a drive. Even if you are driving your car perfectly, it’s still possible that you’ll be involved in a serious or fatal accident because of things outside of your control.

Sudden Loss

For many people, it can be harder to cope with car accident deaths because the loss they’ve experienced happened so suddenly. Losing your spouse, child, parent, or friend in a crash leaves you without any time to prepare yourself emotionally. In many cases, people are upset that they did not have a chance to say goodbye or experience regret for leaving something unsaid.

After experiencing a tragedy like this, life can often become uncertain, unpredictable, and hard to deal with. For many, processing their feelings after a fatal accident can take years, and learning to move on with your life while experiencing these emotions can be challenging. While people respond in many different ways to tragedy, it’s almost never easy.

Immediate Aftermath

Grief and pain are normal responses to loss, but losing somebody in a car accident can make moving forward much more challenging. In some cases, an abrupt loss can be difficult for people to accept, and many need time to fully understand the reality of their situation, especially if you were involved in the accident.

Accepting that a loved one passed away in a crash sometimes takes days or even weeks. During this period, people may feel numb or dull until they are able to accept what happened. Many people who have a difficult time accepting the reality of an accident repeatedly go over the events of the crash in their minds in order to process it. While it isn’t healthy to obsess over what you could have done differently, it’s normal to piece together the accident so that you can fully understand the reality of your loss.

One of the specific qualities of losing somebody suddenly is a state of shock. For a period of time directly after the accident takes place, many people aren’t able to immediately process their feelings. However, after the shock wears off, grieving symptoms can hit suddenly and intensely. Often, grieving individuals undergo a variety of emotions, including confusion, depression, anxiety, guilt, anger, fear, and more.

The Stages of Grieving

Therapists that have studied grieving often categorize the grieving process into five separate stages. The stages of grief were first published by Elsabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969, and most people have heard of them before. However, not many know what the stages actually are. The stages of grieving include:

  1. Denial – After a fatal accident, it’s common to automatically deny that you’ve suffered any loss. In this stage, people try to cope with their shock by pushing the reality of the event away.
  2. Anger – After coming to terms with what happened, people often experience anger toward themselves, others, or life in general. Because your loss seems unfair, it’s common to want to blame something or somebody. In many cases, people feel guilty over their own anger, which only compounds the emotion and makes it even harder to understand.
  3. Bargaining – After the initial anger, many people enter a stage of bargaining or obsessively thinking about how things could be changed. This stage is often characterized by “If only” and “what if” thoughts or statements that seek to find an alternative to the reality of your loss.
  4. Depression – For many, this is the lowest point during the grieving process. Feeling angry and bargaining gives way to feeling sad and, often, hopeless that you’ll ever be able to feel better. During this period, it’s very important to have support from your community, friends, and family. If your depression reaches the point where you isolate yourself from others, can’t get out of bed, or have suicidal thoughts, it’s vital to get help as soon as possible.
  5. Acceptance – People commonly misunderstand acceptance as a stage where you’ll feel entirely ok with what happened. The truth is that you will probably always feel sadness over your loss. However, when you reach this final stage of grieving, you will be able to find a way to live a happy, fulfilling life even though you’ve experienced tragedy.

It’s important to remember that these stages aren’t hard and fast rules, but guidelines that many people find helpful to understand what they are going through. Your grieving process may look different from the one described above, or you may go back and forth between types of grieving. The best thing you can do during grieving is to treat yourself with kindness and patience. Coping with loss takes time, and it may take more than you expect.

Watch YouTube Video: The 5 Stages of Grief Explained. The video below explains what you can expect during the five stages of grief.

Understanding Car Accidents and Grief

As stated above, you are not alone. Tragic accidents happen often, and many people deal with grief every day. Sudden fatal accidents happen much more often than most people even realize. Data shows that one in nine US citizens lose a parent, and one in seven will lose a sibling before turning 20 years old. While it’s hard to quantify the impact of these losses, take a look at these survey results of people who lost parents as children from a study conducted by Comfort Zone Camp:

  • 56 percent would trade a year of their life away in order to spend one more day with their parent.
  • 72 percent believe they would have a “much better” life if they hadn’t lost their parent.
  • 69 percent still think about their lost parent as adults.
  • Nearly two-thirds say that losing their parent was the hardest thing they’ve ever had to deal with.

Another survey from showed that those who’ve lost a loved one often experience:

  • Sorrow
  • Concentration issues
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent crying
  • Longing
  • Overwhelming sadness
  • Loneliness
  • Dreams about the decedent
  • Nostalgia

Furthermore, the majority of participants stated that they didn’t feel like their colleagues and friends always understood the grieving process. Over half of participants reported that they were never able to feel the same as they did before the accident happened, while around 25 percent said that it took one to two years to return to their normal lives. So, even though you may feel like your circumstances are unimaginable, many people are likely going through the very same thing.

Essential Guidelines for Coping with Grief

Even with the best support system in the world, grief can feel overwhelming at any stage of the process. However, the following guidelines help many people make their grieving process easier to handle:

  • Ask for support, encouragement, and help from friends and family
  • Put work into processing your grief and remember that it takes time
  • Allow yourself to feel each individual stage or emotion as it comes
  • Leave ample space and time for yourself to grieve
  • Resist using alcohol or drugs to numb your pain
  • Prioritize taking care of yourself
  • Anticipate things that may trigger your grief
  • Don’t let yourself or any other person tell you how you should feel
  • Explore your faith or a higher power to find inner strength

Losing somebody in a car accident is an awful thing and, while it’s normal to experience very difficult emotions, grieving symptoms may also be indicators of other serious mental issues. If you have noticed a loss of appetite, intense fatigue, loss of interest in activities you care about, trouble sleeping, or difficulty interacting with others, you may be suffering from grief-related depression. It can be difficult to tell when these symptoms are clinical, but if they are seriously affecting your life, you should consider reaching out to a therapist so that you can get support and help with moving forward from an experienced professional. A personal therapist will also be able to help you understand your grieving on an individual level, which can be very helpful for healing.

Financial Recovery

The emotional effects of fatal accidents are serious, but many people aren’t able to focus on grieving because they’ve been left in a difficult financial situation. Losing someone in your family can mean losing a source of income that you and others rely on. In other cases, losing a loved one means losing access to important services like cooking, childcare, cleaning, home maintenance, and more. Additionally, many accident decedents receive medical attention before they pass away, meaning that families are also left with expensive medical bills.

Families deserve stability after experiencing a tragic loss. For this reason, it’s important that they reach out to a local wrongful death lawyer who can help them find out what their options are for obtaining compensation. With the help of an experienced attorney, families are often able to claim payments for the full amount of damages they’ve suffered.

More Articles by Ed Smith, Sacramento Wrongful Death Lawyer

Wrongful Death Lawyers in Sacramento

I’m Ed Smith, a Sacramento wrongful death lawyer. Grieving families deserve compensation from negligent parties. If your loved one passed away in an accident, contact me at either (800) 404-5400 or (916) 921-6400.

My team and I have helped families with wrongful death cases for more than 37 years. To learn about how our clients have been able to obtain fair payments for their losses, see our prior case settlements and trial verdicts.

I also encourage you to see what my clients have written about me at these websites:

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