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How to cope with the holidays

For many people, this is a season of celebrations. However, the holidays are often a difficult time for those who are coping with grief due to a death or serious injury. At this time of year memories of past holidays can be overwhelming, what may have been a joyful time in the past may now seem meaningless.

Many bereaved and injured people face this season with apprehension, often in fear of their emotional reactions to what are supposed to be happy, memorable moments. A common question asked by those mourning a loved one or struggling to make sense of other losses is, “How can I get through the holidays?”

There is no single answer of what we should or should not do, but it is important that we consider what activities are comfortable for you to participate in during the holidays. When everyone else appears so happy and cheerful, it is easy to feel alone after a loss. Please know that you aren’t the only one who feels this way.

Please consider some of the suggestions below that may help you cope with the holiday season:

•    Plan ahead for the approaching holidays. Accept that this might be a difficult time for you. The additional stress this season brings may impact you emotionally, financially, physically and spiritually. These are normal reactions. Be prepared for rushes of emotions that may occur and the possibility that sights and sounds could trigger memories and flashbacks. 

•    Recognize that the holidays might not be the same as they were in the past. Expecting everything to seem the same might lead to disappointment. Modify or make new traditions as it feels right. But also remember the holidays may affect other family members. Talk to others as you make plans and share your feelings. Respect other’s choices and needs, including children’s, and compromise if necessary.

•    Go on a trip if you feel you will be devastated by staying home. But remember that November and December holidays are celebrated all over the world and you may be faced with the same types of images no matter where you go.

•    Relive the happy memories. Pick three special memories of holidays past with your loved one. Think of them often - and celebrate them. If you have lost someone find a way to honor them through new holiday traditions.

•    Direct moments of uncomfortable silence. Because family and friends love you, they will think they are doing you a favor by not mentioning your loved one or the crash. Have a conversation with your loved ones and let them know if you do or don’t want to talk about the crash or a loved one who was killed.

•    Don’t overwhelm or over commit yourself. Give yourself a reprieve. Accept a few invitations to be with close family or friends. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time and decline the ones that feel more like an obligation. Take time for yourself and take care of yourself. Take it slow and easy, one step at a time.

•    Be careful not to isolate yourself. It is all right to take time for yourself, but try not to cut yourself off from the support of family and friends.

•    Talk about your feelings. Let people know if you are having a tough day.

•    Consider holding or attending a memorial service or candlelight vigil. You can make it as small or large as you want. For a large gathering you might host people at a special location, have food prepared, have favorite music playing, poems read and even have someone speak. At a friends and family gathering you could take a few minutes of time to share your favorite stories with others and make a toast or light a candle in honor and remembrance.

If you want to talk with someone about coping during the holidays or for any reason, please call our 24-Hour Victim Help Line at 1-877-MADD-HELP (877-623-3435) or visit madd.org to chat online.


Voices of Victims: Cherry Chalker

Even though sometimes you can’t see them, crashes can leave marks on someone’s life that will stay with them.

Cherry knows what that’s like because her neck was broken in two places after a drunk driver hit her after running a stop sign. 

Things have changed for her since the crash. She’s afraid of things she would have taken for granted before. She was always a roller-coaster junky before it happened; she loved to ride them and went whenever she could. Since the crash, she is afraid of what they may do to her neck if she decided to try to ride them now. She’s afraid to drive her husband’s car, because it’s smaller and she’s worried that she won’t be able to get out of it if she gets hit.  Even normal driving can cause some anxiety.

She came to MADD after her crash in 2011 and attends her local MADD support group and walks in her local Walk Like MADD event.  

At the last walk, they handed out plates to decorate and share what they have been through. Cherry spent a lot of time thinking about what she was going to do. Since she spent Valentine’s Day in the ICU, her first thoughts were of broken hearts, but it just didn’t come out like she wanted it to. So she tried again.

She wanted to show what it was like to be broken and try to put your life back together and to show that no matter how hard you try, it’s never going to be quite the same. She took a hammer to a plate and with one swing shattered it into pieces. She then glued the pieces back together. But the plate couldn’t be put back to how it was before it was broken…it’s a different plate now. 

Cherry said that no matter how much therapy or rehabilitation or counseling you get, there is a part of you that always lives in that little moment. Everything stops in that moment, and you have to figure out a way to start moving forward again.  

Cherry said that each person has their own process. She would never presume to tell someone how they should grieve or heal. For her, she chooses to forgive the person who did this. She has come to understand that the forgiveness wasn’t for him. It was for her, that she needs it so that she can move forward and that it’s something she had to decide to do and it continues to be an act of will.

Cherry appreciates the support she gets from the group she attends and says one of the encouraging parts is that everyone accepts everyone else and where they are, and there is no comparing of losses. She encourages people who are grieving from an injury or death to work through their process – take as much time as they need to do whatever it is that they need to grieve and heal. There’s no procedure, check list or timetable for this. 

Cherry walks with MADD because she can, and says that it’s a celebration that she still can do this, that’s she is still here to do this. 

When you support MADD, you support victims like Cherry. Thank you for your generosity. Please consider donating today.


Voices of Victims: Cherry Chalker

Even though sometimes you can’t see them, crashes can leave marks on someone’s life that will stay with them.

Cherry knows what that’s like because her neck was broken in two places after a drunk driver hit her after running a stop sign. 

Things have changed for her since the crash. She’s afraid of things she would have taken for granted before. She was always a roller-coaster junky before it happened; she loved to ride them and went whenever she could. Since the crash, she is afraid of what they may do to her neck if she decided to try to ride them now. She’s afraid to drive her husband’s car, because it’s smaller and she’s worried that she won’t be able to get out of it if she gets hit.  Even normal driving can cause some anxiety.

She came to MADD after her crash in 2011 and attends her local MADD support group and walks in her local Walk Like MADD event.  

At the last walk, they handed out plates to decorate and share what they have been through. Cherry spent a lot of time thinking about what she was going to do. Since she spent Valentine’s Day in the ICU, her first thoughts were of broken hearts, but it just didn’t come out like she wanted it to. So she tried again.

She wanted to show what it was like to be broken and try to put your life back together and to show that no matter how hard you try, it’s never going to be quite the same. She took a hammer to a plate and with one swing shattered it into pieces. She then glued the pieces back together. But the plate couldn’t be put back to how it was before it was broken…it’s a different plate now. 

Cherry said that no matter how much therapy or rehabilitation or counseling you get, there is a part of you that always lives in that little moment. Everything stops in that moment, and you have to figure out a way to start moving forward again.  

Cherry said that each person has their own process. She would never presume to tell someone how they should grieve or heal. For her, she chooses to forgive the person who did this. She has come to understand that the forgiveness wasn’t for him. It was for her, that she needs it so that she can move forward and that it’s something she had to decide to do and it continues to be an act of will.

Cherry appreciates the support she gets from the group she attends and says one of the encouraging parts is that everyone accepts everyone else and where they are, and there is no comparing of losses. She encourages people who are grieving from an injury or death to work through their process – take as much time as they need to do whatever it is that they need to grieve and heal. There’s no procedure, check list or timetable for this. 

Cherry walks with MADD because she can, and says that it’s a celebration that she still can do this, that’s she is still here to do this. 

When you support MADD, you support victims like Cherry. Thank you for your generosity. Please consider donating today.


Why drunk and drugged deaths are so traumatizing

Losing a loved one is never easy. Death, no matter the cause, inflicts grief, turbulence, and sadness. 

However, under a particular set of traumatic conditions, death transforms into “traumatic death.” A death caused by a drunk or drugged driving crash is always traumatic by its very definition. 

What is traumatic death?

If a person dies from a long-term illness, the family members have time to mentally and emotionally prepare. Preparations may be made for burial, and both the family and the loved one can exert at least some control of the situation, such as deciding on funeral arrangements together. Importantly, friends and family members often have the opportunity to say goodbye.

In a drunk or drugged driving crash, all of that is taken away. 

People impacted by these violent crimes rarely have that opportunity for closure or preparation. 

It hits a person out of the blue and with no warning. Often the victim and family members have no control over the situation at all. 

Our brains recognize this difference and respond differently. With traumatic death, the memories are often stored deep within the brain as long-term memories. This means that drunk and drugged driving victims and survivors may have vibrant and intense memories of the event, even years later. These memories can trigger intense and overwhelming feelings no matter how much time has passed.

What can you do?

People experiencing a traumatic death must heal at their own pace and in their own way. Support of friends and family is crucial, especially long-term support. 

Many people find the ability to talk about the crash or the lost loved one to be healing, and many victims hold ceremonies, sometimes annually, to honor and remember. 

Drunk driving irrevocably changes people’s lives in ways we can’t imagine. Encourage victims to take the time to eat right and exercise or other self-healing habits. Hobbies like journaling or yoga offer some people relief.

MADD’s Victim Advocates seek to help victims find the right approach for each individual. If you are a victim of drunk or drugged driving, please call our national 24/7 Victim Help Line at 1-877-MADD-HELP.


7 Phrases NOT to Say to Drunk and Drugged Driving Victims

Drunk driving crashes recklessly into a life, senselessly and selfishly destroying families and breaking hearts before continuing down the road to dispense more tragedy. This crime kills about 10,000 and injures around 290,000 people a year, leaving hundreds of thousands to pick themselves up and continue carrying on despite the overwhelming loss.

When someone loses a loved one to drunk or drugged driving or is injured in a crash, many people feel a common urge to offer comfort, but some words hurt more than others. Here are the top seven phrases NOT to say to a drunk or drugged driving victim.

1. They are in a better place. Although usually well-meaning, these words may resonate badly with someone who has lost a loved one in a drunk or drugged driving crash as they would rather have their loved one here with them.

2. It was just an accident. Accidents are something unforeseeable and unexpected. When someone chooses to drink and drive – that's not an accident. It’s a crash waiting to happen. Drunk and drugged driving crashes are 100% preventable.

3. Texting/speeding/any other distracted driving is just as bad as drunk driving. No doubt, other dangerous habits kill and injure people on our roads, such as speeding and distracted driving. But those two categories combined don't equal the number of deaths, not to mention injuries and property damage, caused by drunk and drugged driving. Comparing it diminishes the problem.

4. Saying nothing at all. After a drunk driving crash, friends can sometimes avoid saying the loved one's name or just simply not know what to say, so they keep their distance. But drunk or drugged driving victims want and need that support and permission to talk about their loss. Be a friend that will listen and stay close, even if you are uncomfortable. Follow the victim's cue. If they want to talk about their loss, just listen. If they don't want to talk, just be there for them.

5. You’re lucky to be alive.  Drunk driving victims and survivors might not feel lucky at all. They may feel traumatized, lost, and raw with emotions. Such statements may actually do the opposite of what you intend and hurt the person you are trying to comfort.

6. You need to forgive. Every victim feels differently about the crash and about forgiveness.  Some feel like they will never be able to forgive the person who caused the crash, others feel like it's very important for them to do so.  There is no right answer, so don't push people to do something they may not be able or ready to do.

7. Aren’t you over it already? There is no closure  following a drunk or drugged driving crash.  When someone is injured or killed they don't just “get over it”.  Crashes affect people in different ways throughout their lives, and they will likely never go back to where they were before the crash happened.

If you or someone you know is dealing with the devastation caused by a drunk or drugged driving crash, don't hesitate to call our 24/7 Victim Help Line at 1-877-MADD-HELP. Then, you will be connected with a victim advocate, who can help you navigate the courts, locate local resources, and connect with people experiencing a similar grief. Additionally, we have online chat available on our website during normal business hours.

Discover more about victim services today.


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