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.

When Grief Leads to Advocacy

When a loved one dies or someone is injured in a crash, victims and survivors often find themselves in a complex web of emotions and reactions as they learn to live with their loss.

As they experience grief due to a crash, that grief can be overwhelming and all encompassing. Over time though, people can learn to live with their grief and sometimes grow in ways they never expected or wanted.In our own human journey, we try to find our niche or purpose in life, but sometimes it finds us instead. Crime victims discover things that they were not aware of prior to their victimization and somewhere down that road they may want to take what they have learned and put it to use to help others.

Many victims and survivors want to make sure that what happened to them doesn’t happen to anyone else, or that something good comes from what happened to them – this is where a desire to advocate often comes from. Advocacy is speaking out for or about something and can take many forms.  Some victims and survivors advocate by participating in Walk Like MADD events, others work with victims and survivors to offer comfort or support, some take on legislative advocacy to try to change laws, and still others speak about their experience as a victim or survivor of a drunk or drugged driving crash.

If you or a loved one have been impacted by a crash and want to advocate, there are many opportunities to make a difference.  To get started, you can read about ways to get involved or reach out to your local MADD office.

Thank you for being a part of the solution and for making the world a better place. Please join us this week in building a Road To Hope in honor of Crime Victims' Rights Week. Simply customize a virtual brick by sharing a piece of advice, a kind gestures, or support you received that helped you take a step forward. In this small way, we honor our lost loved ones and the strength it takes for all crime victims to continue their healing journey.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Easter

By Dr. Gloria Horsley, an internationally known grief expert and author. Gloria is the founder of the Open to Hope foundation.  

Do you feel uncertain about the upcoming Easter holiday? 

If so, you are not alone.

My friend Mary said she wasn’t looking forward to Easter because it makes her both happy and sad. The holiday is a reminder of her mom, who died last year and who had always sponsored the Easter egg hunt. 

Ted, a member of our Compassionate Friends support group, commented that he looks forward to Easter, as it gives him hope he will see his deceased daughter again.  “Of course,” he said, “thinking about my daughter does make me sad.”  

Depending on your experiences and your religious persuasion, Easter can trigger different emotions in people. 

I for one am very ambivalent about Easter.

The year our son, Scott, was killed, we were visiting Washington D.C. on a family vacation and had attended the Easter egg roll on the White House lawn.  That night, Scott would die – according to the accident report at 11:59 p.m. – one minute before Easter.

It has crossed my mind that some amazing and kind first responder was sensitive enough to put on the death certificate that Scott died one minute prior to Easter. Without this intervention, we would not only have to deal with April 2nd as the death day but, also, Easter, which falls on a different date each year.

Early in the grief journey, anniversary reactions can be strong. We talk a lot about the need for self-care during major holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving, but not much about Easter. 

If you, like me, have uncertainty regarding Easter, below are some tips to help you get through this holiday:

Ask for help - If you are not looking forward to Easter activities, then have friends and family take your kids places and help them dye the Easter eggs.

Accept change - Don’t worry about breaking family rituals or traditions. You can pick up the Easter egg hunt another year.

Get support - Let others provide the Easter brunch or have a potluck. 

Practice self-care - Plan activities that you find supportive and give you comfort.

Renew your faith - If you see Easter as a religious holiday, then attend the church of your choice.

Be prepared – The days leading up to any holiday can be more difficult than the day itself.

Celebrate their life – For those who want to remember, Easter is a great time to plan an activity dedicated to your deceased loved one.  It can be as simple as saying their name, looking at photographs or giving a toast.  For those who want a more substantial activity, it is a great time to plant a lovely rose bush or tree in their memory.

My wish for you this Easter is that you will take care of yourself with the knowledge that love never dies. 

God Bless,

Dr. Gloria

Remember, MADD Victim Services is here to help mend your heart too!  Last year, MADD provided more than 119,280 supportive services to drunk and drugged driving victims to help them cope. Call 877.MADD.HELP to speak with a victim advocate, day or night. 

Wishing you and yours a happy and healing Easter!

Valentine’s Day: Ten Things That Help Heal Your Broken Heart

By Dr. Gloria Horsley, an internationally known grief expert and author. Gloria is the founder of the Open to Hope foundation.  

Be My Valentine! 

Do those three simple words bring a smile to your face? 

They do to mine.  As I look at those words, I think of my first loves.  I believe my very first love memory was that of my mom and me making a heart out of red construction paper and putting a ruffle around it.  

I know you may be dreading Valentine’s Day as it is about love and the heart. Perhaps it simply reminds you of what you have lost.  Your heart has been broken, and I know how it is to have a broken heart.  The question is: how do you begin to mend that heart?  

You may be sitting with that broken heart wondering if, like Humpty Dumpty, you will ever get your heart together again.  You WILL once you realize Humpty Dumpty was a cracked egg, and you are a living being with a heart that can heal.  Yes, the heart is one of the most versatile organs in the body, and it has a great capacity for healing.

This Valentine’s Day is a good time to take care of matters of the heart and start the healing process.  Ask yourself to be Your Favorite Valentine.  

Below are ten things to help you mend your broken heart:

1.    Look at yourself in the mirror and say simply, “I love you.”

2.    Wrap your arms around yourself and give your heart a big hug.

3.    Send someone a Valentine and simply say, “Thinking of you.”

4.    Create your own event and invite a friend to a Valentine’s Day tea, lunch, or dinner.

5.    Make or buy a valentine to share with someone you love.

6.    Make or buy a second valentine for yourself that reads, “From your healing heart. I truly love you. Now and Forever.”  Tape it to your mirror or even better mail it to yourself.

7.    Invite some friends in to make valentines cards.

8.    Buy yourself a red shirt, sweater, or scarf to wear.

9.    Buy yourself, partner, or friend a heart-shaped box of candy.

10.    Most of all, set the intention that you will forgive yourself: “Be Your Own Valentine.”

God Bless, Dr. Gloria

Remember, MADD Victim Services is here to help mend your heart too! 

Last year, MADD provided more than 119,280 supportive services to drunk and drugged driving victims to help them cope.

Call 877.MADD.HELP to speak with a victim advocate, day or night. 

Wishing you and yours a heart-healing Valentine’s Day!

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