The grief response following the death of a loved one on the roads is often intensified as there has been no preparation or chance to say goodbye.

Families and friends are suddenly forced to face the loss of a loved one instantaneously and without warning. This type of loss can generate intense grief responses such as shock, anger, guilt, sudden depression, despair and hopelessness.

If you’re struggling after the bereavement of a loved one on the roads, talk to Voice. Talking with us is free, confidential and our emotional and practical support has been designed specifically to help you cope and recover following  sudden bereavement.

I’m finding it hard to sleep

It’s common to have trouble sleeping following traumatic experiences. However it is important to try to get as close to your normal amount of sleep as possible, to maintain your physical and mental health.

If you find you are regularly awake throughout the night then drop off from exhaustion as the morning approaches, try to arrange your life so you can have some lie-ins without disturbance.

If you need to take time off work to catch up on sleep, then take it. You will not be able to work effectively if you are exhausted.

Your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you sleep but this is not recommended as a long-term fix for your sleep problems.

To help the sleep process, avoid consuming caffeine after lunchtime, try moderate exercise so your body is tired and try some relaxation techniques just before going to bed.

I’m having flashbacks/nightmares

Vivid thoughts and dreams about the incident, the person who has died, or a fear, are a frequent response to bereavement and usually become less intense as time goes by.

Talking about what happened can help – Voice is here to help you explore your thoughts and feelings following a road incident.

Flashbacks can be extremely realistic and make you feel like you are experiencing everything again.

Not everyone suffers flashbacks, but if you do, they may happen at any time and be frightening. Things that you can do if you are experiencing flashbacks are:

  • tell yourself you are having a flashback and the experience you are seeing is from the past;
  • remind yourself that the worst is over and the feelings you are experiencing are memories of the past;
  • breathe. The flashback will most probably cause you to feel frightened which changes normal breathing. Your body may then start to panic due to lack of oxygen. Breathing deeply can help the feeling of panic to subside;
  • re-establish to the present.  Use your five senses. Look around and see the colours in the room, the shapes of things, the people near, and so on. Listen to the sounds in the room; your breathing, traffic, birds, people, cars etc. Feel your body and what is touching it; your clothes, your own arms and hands, the chair or floor supporting you;
  • find your boundaries. Sometimes when having a flashback things get out of proportion and you may lose the sense of yourself. Do anything that you can to make yourself feel safe such as wrapping yourself in a blanket, hold a pillow or soft toy or go to bed;
  • get help. You may feel the need to be alone or you may want someone near you. In either case it is important that your friends and relations know about flashbacks so they can help with the process, whether that means letting you be by yourself or being there, whatever is right for you is right. Our specialist counsellors can also help. 

I feel physically unwell

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 which can cause localised pains, such as headaches, stomach pains and backache. Women may find they suffer extra pain during menstruation, or menstruate at unusual times.

You may also 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, but it is important to access help and support if you are feeling these things.

However you feel, talk to Voice.

I don’t feel like eating anything

You may forget to eat properly or find eating difficult. But it is important to look after your own nutritional needs so that your body is strong enough to cope with what you’re going through.

Try to eat a little, often. You may find it helps to stock your fridge and cupboards with foods that are tasty, good for you and comforting but take little time to prepare, such as fruit juice, pots of yoghurt, crackers and carrot sticks.

Unless you have specific dietary requirements, now is not a time to worry about calories. Eat what you want and when you want. If a cup of hot chocolate is comforting to you, then drink one.

I’m finding it hard to concentrate

You may find yourself making simple mistakes when doing the simplest things as a result of you struggling to concentrate – this is due to the intense feelings of bereavement and is another common side-affect to losing a loved one suddenly.

Because of the enormous stress you are suffering, it may be hard to take in information you are told, or recall important facts, remember to do things, or do things as well as you would at other times.

This can be particularly challenging if you are involved in procedures such as organising a funeral, understanding the findings of a postmortem examination, or the processing of someone’s will.

It can also be challenging if you have to work, or have domestic responsibilities such as caring for dependents, or going back to work.

Voice is here to help you through this process. We can offer practical as well as emotional support to help you with day to day tasks, and help you to grieve so you can begin to move forward.

I’ve started to drink too much / use medication to cope

You may be tempted to use alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to help you feel more able to cope with what has happened. However, it is not a good idea to use any substance, whether stimulant or tranquilliser, to manage your feelings.

All these do is mask how you’re feeling and help you forget for a small period of time – the underlying cause is still there and needs to be processed to help you move forward.

Overusing alcohol, cigarettes or drugs can also have a seriously detrimental effect on your health.

If you’re struggling to cope following trauma on the roads, talk to Voice. We’re here to help you no matter what has happened, and can support you with what you’re going through.

I feel really angry

Or you may even feel angry towards the person who has died for leaving you.

It is also common to get worked up over minor everyday things that normally you take in your stride, 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. However, if you are concerned that your anger is being taken out on people close to you, talk to a professional counsellor. Our team at Voice can help.

I feel numb / depressed

Feeling cut off from your emotions, feeling nothing or feeling down and depressed is perfectly normal following bereavement.

The shock from the trauma can make you numb, exhausted and extremely sad, and you may be trying to carry on as if things are as they have always been.

Many people feel disorientated – as if they have lost their place and purpose in life or are living in a different world. If you are feeling like this, talking about your emotions with one of our trained counsellors will help.

You should also visit your doctor who can assess your physical symptoms to see if medication may help in the short term.