One of the primary mission objectives of Mothers Against Drunk Driving is to support the victims of violent crime. Consequently, we have quite a bit of experience in grief counseling relatives and friends of victims. What follows is a condensed version of what we tell those who seek our services.
There is a commonality in the emotional consequences for the family and friends of a victim of a violent death, regardless of the form it may take. What can anybody possibly say to a person who has suddenly lost a family member or friend in such a manner? How does one answer the unanswerable question of “why?”
First of all, you who are going through just about every emotion possible, are not going crazy. This is part of the grieving process. Shock and disbelief are usually followed by anger once the reality sets in. Then there is the sorrow and pain of the loss. This process must be faced, and the grief worked through if there is to be any resolution to your feelings. The pain will subside. But don’t worry, you will not forget your friends. There will be flashes of their memory for the rest of your life. The hope is that these flashes will be happy memories. What can you do to have that happen? Talk to each other. Remember the good times. Laugh along with the tears. Isn’t this what you would like your friends to do for you?
It is my belief that we have three options when it comes to choosing our actions during this period:
1) You can destroy out of anger. You will feel anger at the event that robbed you of your friend. You didn’t get to say goodbye, or how much that friendship meant to you. You are angry with the driver of the car. This is natural. The question is what you will do with this feeling? If you let it control you, it will destroy you and the relationships around you.
2) You can do nothing out of fear. Will you stop driving, be fearful to go outside at night, become emotionally withdrawn because of this tragedy?
3) Or, you can build out of love. You cared about your friends. Is there any better way to remember them than to care for others? The act of giving of yourself helps to minimize the pain you feel, focuses your emotions toward others in need and is a tribute to your friend. Find an organization that works toward eliminating the cause or causes of this tragedy, and devote some of your time to it. You will find that this helps give meaning to the loss.
Finally, if you have spiritual beliefs, pray. Pray for peace for yourself and comfort for the family and friends of these young people and, yes, even the driver of the car.
Whatever you do, try to remember that your friend is standing next to you and watching what you are doing. Will your actions make him or her smile?
Frank Hamilton is the president of the Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo chapter of MADD.