It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Dealing with the aftermath of a truck crash is complicated. Beyond the logistical and practical considerations, there is a complex process of grief and healing that everyone will experience differently. Often, the ripples of such a profound tragedy are felt in a victim or survivor’s entire community. We hope to share insight into what the process may look like for everyone involved, as well as some of the things we have learned in our own journeys.
No matter what you are feeling, it’s okay. There are people who will be telling you that you should be doing this and you should be doing that; they’ll tell you that you should be feeling better and that you should be back on the job and be 100%. There are these artificial time limits that are supposed to let you know when you should be better, and you think you’re crazy if you’re not. The reality is, wherever you are, that’s okay.
Dawn King, whose father was killed in a truck crash
I think despite all the legal things my biggest word of advice is take care of yourself as an individual, talk to somebody, get counseling and don’t shut down like I did. I fell into a dark hole and tried to take my life a couple of months after our accident because I just could not live with that emptiness that felt heavy. I wouldn’t talk to anyone and I regret not seeking the help early on. It’s easy to get stuck on auto pilot. Sadly, I barely remember the first year after. Just talk to somebody, anybody, because what I’ve learned after losing people is these tragic deaths and the PTSD that come with them give grief a whole different meaning.
Christina Mahaney, whose son was killed in a truck crash
It’s okay to fall down and struggle to get back up. Just get back up. Breathe. Crawl and claw your way out of it. Yes, it’s a dark place where your soul is trapped, or at least mine was screaming to get out. Nothing is “wrong” with you. You aren’t going through “stages”. You’ve been injured, either physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or all of the above. Of course you are going to fall down and struggle. Just get back up, even if it’s baby steps.
Pam Biddle, whose son was killed in a truck crash
Quick Tips From Our Community
- Get support from a professional and/or a support group
- Do not be afraid to talk about what you’re going through
- Write about the experience in a journal
- Seek information about the crash to answer those unanswered questions
- Understand that everyone copes differently, and be especially sensitive to family members who may cope differently than you
- Reinvest in life by reaching out to others and taking care of yourself mentally and physically
How Are You Feeling?
It’s common to think only of the physical injuries that can occur with truck crashes, but injuries aren’t always physical. What is often overlooked following serious crashes is the psychological and emotional trauma that comes with being affected by a truck crash, whether it is you who was involved in the crash or someone you love. Emotional trauma is one of the most common permanent injuries after a truck crash.
After being involved or affected by a truck crash, survivors and friends and families of victims have reported experiencing feelings of:
|Loss of appetite
|Increased interpersonal conflict
|Sensitivity to certain noises or smells
|Chronic fatigue or exhaustion
These feelings may arise immediately after the crash, or in the days, weeks or months following. It’s common to not fully realize that you have been emotionally affected by a truck crash that you or a loved one has been in until some time has passed, especially if you are preoccupied with dealing with hospital visits, expenses, funeral arrangements, and more.
Friends, Family, and Acquaintances
Keep your village large, because it will take a lot of resources to keep moving forward. Isolation will only prolong your suffering. Face-to-face interactions, social activities, and online connections can help you feel normal. Talking to family, friends, and other willing listeners about your experience can help ease your psychological and emotional trauma.
As word spreads about your crash, old friends and people you have casual relationships might reach out to help. If you are comfortable, let them help. Offer specific tasks for them to handle, i.e., walk the dog, mow your lawn, provide food for your family, etc.
Let the hospital or rehab staff know about your faith or religious affiliations. They may have a Chaplin on site or might be able to connect you with spiritual support. If you are active in a faith community, don’t be afraid to reach out to them. They can provide all kinds of support in the short term and over time as friends and family become less available.
Do not be shy about sharing your story with medical staff. This includes doctors, nurses, therapists, and anyone involved in your or your loved one’s care. They can be a tremendous source of help from offering compassion to important advice/tips.
Do your research and find organizations who can support you throughout your journey. The Truck Safety Coalition has several resources that can help you through this challenging time. We have a private Facebook group, which offers a community to share your story and get support from people who understand what you are going through.
We also hold a biennial Sorrow to Strength Conference, where families and friends of truck crash victims, and truck crash survivors, come together in Washington, D.C. to share experiences and bond in a supportive environment, learn about truck safety issues, and meet with Members of Congress and regulatory agencies to educate them on truck safety issues. Sorrow to Strength allows families to talk about their loved ones, their crash, and their memories in ways they are not free to do in their daily lives, and to then take those feelings and channel them into actions that benefit all who drive on our roadways. The families who been to past conferences express a bond of support with other families that they retain after they’ve returned home.
Counseling and Support Groups
It is very common to hear people in our community say that they wish they had not waited so long to seek counseling. We encourage new victims and families to consider counseling and/or support groups early in your journey. If you go and do not like it, try a different counselor or group rather than simply discontinuing your sessions.
While grief is typically thought of in relation to losing a loved one, many of our survivors and family members of survivors report experiencing grief in the wake of their experience as well. No matter your relationship to the crash, this information may prove helpful.
Grief can take many forms following the loss of a loved one. Grief reactions are natural responses to such an unexpected and unimaginable loss. When someone is killed suddenly and violently in a truck crash, reactions of family and friends can be intense, complicated, and long-lasting. You may feel angrier than you have ever felt and sadder than you thought possible. You may have frightening thoughts and feelings about the crash and the future, or you may do things that seem out of your character. These are all some of the common reactions that may be associated with the traumatic death of a loved one.
During the first six months to a year after such a devastating crash, survivors and victims’ families may be vulnerable to physical illness. Evidence suggests that intense grief weakens the immune system. There is also evidence that people beset by grief become susceptible to other sorts of mishaps because they are preoccupied with their loss. Additionally, your immune system is working overtime, and this may cause you to feel worn out.
You may have difficulty sleeping, or you may want to sleep all the time. You may feel nauseated and quit eating, or feel ravenous and eat everything in sight. Whatever you are feeling, you are not imagining things. During this early period of grief, try to eat healthily, get plenty of rest, and see your doctor if any problems persist.
Some people find the pain too difficult and turn to alcohol or illegal drugs. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to make the loss easier to bear. Alcohol and illegal drugs are likely to make your grieving process more difficult because both will contribute to irrational thoughts and depressed moods.
You may need medication prescribed by your doctor to help you eat or sleep while grieving. If so, do not consider it a weakness. You have suffered severe trauma and professional care can be very helpful and may be necessary.
Following a violent and unanticipated death, denial is expected and functional to some extent. It allows a person to travel through grief at their own pace and serves them well until they are stronger and better able to cope. If you cannot think clearly or if you seem forgetful and detached, be patient with yourself. If you need help, ask for it. When you heard of your loved one’s death, you may have gone into shock. Regardless of the initial impact, you may have soon found yourself in a state of numbness. Looking back now, you may wonder how you could have remained calm. You may have completed some tasks that now seem impossible. You probably have a hard time remembering exactly what you did during those first few days. During this time, people may have assumed that you were strong when you were actually in shock.
Anger can become guilt over time. It is very, very common for survivors to feel somehow responsible for what happened or to think that they didn’t do enough while their loved ones were alive. You may say to yourself, “If I only would have talked to him for another minute at breakfast, he wouldn’t have been where he was,” or “If only I had another chance to tell him that I loved him.” Feelings of guilt involve numerous “should haves” or “should not haves.” Regrets are normal, but you cannot change the past and there is nothing that you could have done to prevent the crash. It is important to remember that the crash was not the fault of anyone who was not on the road.
A truck crash death causes multiple physical, psychological, and social losses. A victim/survivor also suffers secondary losses that stem from the initial losses. While grief reactions such as sadness, anxiety, anger, and fear are expected, more serious psychological complications can develop over time.
You may find your feelings are long-lasting and are interfering with your abilities to function both physically and emotionally. Relationships with family and friends may be in jeopardy. These feelings may lead to thoughts of suicide or death and if they do, it is time to ask for help immediately. Clinical depression and anxiety can be debilitating but are very treatable.
When people are exposed to a traumatic event, they frequently suffer psychological consequences, such as depression or anxiety. Additionally, some people experience recurrent and ongoing recollections of the trauma, which can obviously lead to distress. You may be driving in your car and suddenly have thoughts about the crash or perceive sensations (images, smells, etc.) that “bring you back” to the crash. You may wake up in the middle of the night in a panic due to a nightmare.
Moments like these typically come about without warning and over time can cause you to avoid situations that you connect with the crash or these recurrences. You may feel on edge, anxious, or always ready to react. Recollections can feel so painful and scary that they disrupt your normal activities and relationships.
Trauma victims/survivors who consistently experience all these symptoms for up to one month may be experiencing Acute Stress Disorder (ASD). If these feelings last longer than six months, they may be experiencing symptoms related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). ASD and PTSD are anxiety disorders that may only be diagnosed by mental health professionals. If you are experiencing any of the above‐listed symptoms or continue to be plagued by the trauma experience, it is important to seek professional help, as both ASD and PTSD are treatable with a combination of therapies. With help, positive memories of your loved one or your life before the crash will replace the distressing memories.
Surviving a truck crash can leave you with many emotions and a whole new set of life circumstances. Loss of work and/or mobility, difficulties associated with trauma, and the physical and emotional recovery processes each present their own complexities. Many people report feeling guilty that they need support because they think they should just feel lucky to be alive. The reality is, you can be thankful to have survived and, at the same time, feel grief for what you lost.
Survivors often have so many things stripped away from them, some mental, some emotional, and some physical. It takes its toll on your body, even if it’s a toll no one sees but you.
-Sarah Jo Plücker Wright, who survived a truck crash
Dealing with the physical recovery from your injuries is one piece of the puzzle. The emotional and mental recovery will continue for a lifetime. One of the difficult aspects of this process is that each survivor’s physical and emotional condition is unique. Do not shy away from talking about your experience with other survivors, or even people who have lost loved ones in truck crashes. Do your best to avoid comparison, try to find the similarities in your journeys, and allow yourself to be supported.
When someone you love has survived a truck crash, regardless of their level of injury, you may find yourself in charge of all sorts of things you could have never imagined facing. While it is important to make sure you are dealing with all of the logistical things, it is equally important to make sure you are honoring your own emotional process and getting the support you need.
You may experience your own grieving process for the relationship you had and the loss of the life you imagined with or for that person. You may find that you have expectations about how you should feel, i.e., you should just be thankful they are alive, yet you feel devastated at the scope of their injuries. It’s okay to feel conflicting emotions. As much as you can, try to accept those thoughts and feelings and not to judge or dismiss them.
In the beginning, it can feel impossible to imagine feeling normal again. Many survivors have life-long physical injuries that require medical intervention and management that you will need to help with. Others have long-lasting effects of the trauma from their crash that are invisible but ever-present in your relationship. Consider that this process is a marathon, not a sprint. You will need to pace yourself as you learn the “new normal” way of life. Those of us who have gone through this can assure you, there will be a day you adjust to the new way of things. Until then, make sure you take care of your basic needs. Eat, sleep, shower, and even try to find some down time. It’s a long road, and you cannot help your loved one if you are not well.
You will always feel sorrowful knowing that your loved one died tragically and that the long relationship you might have enjoyed was cut short. However, this sorrow is not the emotional equivalent to the intense grief that most victims/survivors experience for the first months or years. A sense of sorrow is not the same as being overwhelmed by grief. While the initial responses to the death are defined by the term grief, mourning refers to the internal processes associated with adapting to life without your loved one. Some have described mourning as a “misty fog on life.” It feels as if life is not quite as bright as it was before.
Anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays often trigger reminders of the death or absence of your loved one. Perhaps the most significant and most difficult anniversary is that of the crash. The annual date of the crash causes much anticipatory anxiety and can contribute to increased grief for victims/survivors. The first anniversary will most likely be the most painful; however, it may also be an opportunity to respond to the death in a manner that was denied at the time of the crash. Commemorating your loved one’s death on this day helps everyone to celebrate their life.
Other annual celebrations will continue to take place year after year. In the past, these times of joy brought you together. Now and forever, they will trigger memories of your loved one. At first, these holidays will be difficult, but later they will provide you with reasons to reminisce and begin new rituals. Planning ahead for holidays and birthdays not only allows you to prepare for those events but also provides ongoing and open communication among family members.
Philosophy of Life
People who have never been spiritual may find comfort in religion in the wake of trauma. Likewise, people whose faith plays a significant part in their lives often find that they have to reconstruct their personal philosophies to accommodate what has happened. Whatever your outlook, it is certain that this kind of tragedy will force you to work through your thoughts and beliefs.
You will never forget what happened. If you are afraid to get better because you think you might forget your loved one, know that you will always remember. Healing does not mean that you loved the person less. You will always cherish the memory of your loved one. You will always regret that you were unable to share more time together. In time, you will remember the happy memories more often than the painful ones that fill your mind now.
Nearly all victims/survivors are able to say that they are grateful they shared the life they did with their loved one for as long as they did. To experience depths of sadness and heights of joy is to be fully alive, fully human. Having feelings means that denial and numbness are no longer necessary and the fullness of the experience of trauma can be absorbed. You will be able to heal in time. For most, it takes years and hard work. Be patient with yourself!
Moving forward can be a way of showing that life, as it was represented in your loved one, matters to you. It can be important, too, for others who love you and depend on you. For your own sake and the sake of those who need and love you, you have a responsibility to try to heal. You could not prevent the outcome of the truck crash that killed your loved one.
Getting better means:
- Solving problems and completing tasks in your daily work routine
- Sleeping well and having energy
- Feeling good enough about yourself to be hopeful about the rest of your life
- Being able to enjoy the beautiful things in life
When you are ready, the Truck Safety Coalition would like to invite you to our special part of the healing process. Sorrow to Strength is a conference we hold every other year for you; it is specifically designed for survivors of truck crashes and families and friends of those who have died or been injured. The conference allows us to come together for a weekend of sharing, remembrance, workshops, and public policy education and activities to advance truck safety.
Sorrow to Strength is organized as an opportunity for us to discuss both personal experiences and how to work as a powerful, effective constituency. Throughout the conference, you will have the chance to meet with safety experts, elected officials, and other safety supporters. Additionally, you can share your story with others who have experienced similar tragedies. Finally, a special remembrance ceremony during Sorrow to Strength serves as a memorial to those we have lost.
Tragically, you are now a part of our community, but membership in this community means that you are not alone!
“The conference is all about taking feelings of sorrow and helplessness and learning the skills that are needed to turn them into strength, guidance, and advocacy. You don’t even want to think that your loved ones died in vain; you want their death to have meant something.
You cherish some way to honor them and to honor their memory and there’s no better way to do it than doing whatever you can to prevent what happened to your loved one from happening to someone else.”
-Jennifer Tierney, whose father was killed in a truck crash
You are going to have a long road ahead of you with your emotional and mental health. Talk to someone, get medicated, find an outlet, find a support group (like this one). Faith, lean on family, friends, anyone. If you do not actively try to seek help for yourself, it will consume you. Grief isn’t just missing someone. It’s depression, anxiety, disassociation, impaired social relationships, etc. Chronic grief and stress can cause a lot of physical issues, and become physical symptoms. Take care of yourself. One thing that made me try to care for myself in deep depression was knowing that I was an extension of them, and they would want me to be okay. If you can’t at first do it for yourself, do it for them.
Kiera Davis, whose brother and father were killed in a truck crash
I think I would have liked to have met you all sooner. I was lucky to attend the very next Sorrow to Strength which was less than a year after the crash. But having you all in my life has made such a world of difference. Knowing that other people can relate in some way, long after your tribe at home has moved on is life-changing. So, I guess, I really want to emphasize how important Sorrow to Strength and any other opportunities to meet in person (or on Zoom right now) can be for a new member’s overall well-being.
Ashley McMillan, whose boyfriend was killed in a truck crash
Give yourself time and don’t push yourself too fast. Don’t try to return to work full time right away or expect to be back to doing your normal routines a week later. Yes, some people find solace in work trying to get some normalcy back, and even burying themselves in it to not think about “it”. It’s avoidance, but give yourself time to acknowledge that your old world is gone, because your feelings are raw and the anger is right below the surface ready to be unleashed. If you bury it deep inside, it will show up again with a vengeance and in destructive ways. Whether you realize it or not, you have changed forever.
Pam Biddle, whose son was killed in a truck crash