Grieving and Finding Meaning in Life

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Losing someone you know and love to a vehicular accident is a devastating experience. The heartbreak often leads one to dwell on what ifs, regrets, and guilt or self-blame. Others feel that there is something they can do to prevent the same thing from happening to others. Some will do advocacies and crusades just to inform the public and anyone who cares to listen and learn from their painful experience.

Regardless of what people do after a tragic experience, everyone will go through the five stages of the grieving process. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s final legacy is in the form of a book entitled “On Death and Dying” that eventually introduced to the world the five stages of grief and grieving. The five stages are:

1. Denial

In psychology, denial is defined as an unconscious defense mechanism characterized by refusal to acknowledge painful realities, thoughts, or feelings. Hence, a person in shock and in the denial stage will tend to do the daily tasks in a stage of numbness and do things like an automaton. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross stated that denial helps us to pace our feelings of grief. She added that there is a grace in denial and it is nature’s way of letting in only as much as we can handle. Moreover, she encourages everyone by saying, “as you accept the reality of the loss and start to ask yourself questions, you are unknowingly beginning the healing process.”

2. Anger

Some people cringe when the most affected friend or next of kin has a show of anger because this violent feeling can be directed to anyone who is near at the moment. The grieving relative might express anger against the police authorities, paramedics, investigators, to the offender, to God, to the dead loved one and to just anyone.

The author of Death and Dying says that underneath anger is pain and feeling of loneliness or isolation. By showing anger, one does not feel alone and is connected to someone because of that anger. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross describes anger as an indication of the intensity of love felt by the grieving party towards the dead loved one. She added that one should feel anger as it is part of the grieving process. People are getting good at suppressing anger. It can actually help the grieving person since it is something she/he can hold on to and use to not feel deserted or abandoned.

3. Bargaining

Kubler-Ross reminds readers that the five stages of grief are not always experienced in order, and depending on how a person manage his/her emotion, he can go through each stage quickly, within a day or hours, and go back and forth on the different stages depending coping mechanism and support system.

In bargaining, the grieving person dwells on the what ifs and on regrets. He/she will often make promises to God if He will change what happened. Guilt is often the companion of bargaining according to the author. The person in grief will feel responsible for what happened and think that only if he/she did something maybe the accident would not have occured.

4. Depression

Depression is defined as psychiatric disorder characterized by an inability to concentrate, insomnia, loss of appetite, feelings of extreme sadness, guilt, helplessness and hopelessness, and thoughts of death. This is also called clinical depression.

The author describes the depression that grieving person undergo as “withdrawal from life and not a mental disorder.” This stage is considered normal for anyone who loses someone she dearly loved. Sadness and emptiness are normal feelings for someone who has lost a spouse, a parent, a sibling or a child to untimely death such as vehicular accident due to recklessness or negligence of either the victim or the offender. The author added that since grief is a process of healing then depression is one of those necessary steps to make healing possible.

5. Acceptance

Acceptance does not mean that the grieving person is okay now and has recovered from the pain. This stage means that the one suffering from grief has come to terms with the reality of the loss. He/she has accepted that the loved one is not coming back and has been taken away forever. People learn to live with their loss but with a feeling that something is missing that nobody can replace. They have the tendency to pursue their old life and to maintain the status quo only to realize that it has been changed forever. Eventually the grieving person will open up to others, make new connections, make adjustments to their new life by acknowledging that with the loss of the loved one, the present reality is very different from the old reality.

As an illustration to this case in point, let me cite the story of Angel Fernandez who lost a friend to an accident. According to the report, his friend, Edward Cardoso ,14 years of age, was walking home when he was struck by a utility truck. 15-year-old Angel recalled that he was walking with Edward that morning for a few minutes before Angel was picked up. He offered Edward a ride to school but he refused saying he preferred to walk to school. He described his friend as someone who loves to walk.

Angel was in class for about three to four hours later that day when he was called to the guidance counselor’s office. They asked him if he knew what happened to Edward. Angel didn’t know. Angel recounted that the first thought that came to his mind was what kind of person/driver would not see a kid walking across a street. Was the driver drunk, texting or distracted? Later he learned that the driver who struck his friend was just a 19-year-old kid.

Angel went to see Edward’s mother and then the place where his friend was hit. He narrated that it was kind of hard for him to accept what happened. Maybe if Edward had accepted the offered ride then the fatal accident would not have happened or only if he had done something that could have prevented his friend’s death.

He missed Edward much and admitted that he later came to grips with what happened to his friend. But he often asks if anything good will still happen to him after such a devastating loss.

One day, Angel went swimming in a pool located at Willow Cove Apartments, 9300 S. Redwood Road by virtue of his aunt’s invitation who lives in the complex. According to Angel, a woman with a young son let him in to the pool area. Angel went swimming and later noticed a familiar but now empty flotation device. He was trying to recall who was using that flotation device when a girl pointed at something at the bottom of the pool.

Quickly, Angel dove down and picked up the boy from the bottom and brought him to surface. He felt nervous that the little boy was no longer breathing. He was thankful that he had several years with the Boy Scouts and felt that he had been trained to respond to situations such as this. He even helped the mother perform CPR and by the time medical responders arrived, the little boy was already breathing again. He remembered telling the mother over and over again that everything would be all right.

Angel’s heroic deeds did not go unnoticed. He was honored by West Jordan City with a “lifesaving award” for saving a 4-year-old from drowning. West Jordan Fire Chief Marc McElreath said the awards are given to civilians who intervene in situations and save someone. Authorities admired his composure and ability to act beyond his age thereby making it possible to save a 4-year-old from death.
Angel’s life shaping ex
periences led him to consider becoming a trauma doctor in the future because he likes the feeling of saving lives.

He said that what happened to Edward did not make him afraid to go walking down the streets, rather it made him more careful in crossing streets. He vowed that when he drives he will not even listen to music and will avoid distractions as not to hurt any pedestrian or motorist.

Christensen & Hymas is happy that positive things do happen to the lives of those who have grieved for the people they loved and lost to senseless accidents. The world will indeed become a better place with people who, despite the pain, find peace and satisfaction in helping others. What is more valuable is the realization that the safety of the roads will depend on the conscious efforts of all road users: motorists, motorcyclists and pedestrians.

After all, life on earth is short, but let us not make it shorter with recklessness and negligence. Drive safe to keep others safe.

Photo “roses” copy right of Robert Couse Baker.

Ken Christensen
Partner, Founder at Christensen & Hymas
Ken Christensen is the founding partner of Christensen & Hymas. He is an avid cyclist, loves baseball, and enjoys spending time with his family in the outdoors.

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