When someone you know has been suddenly bereaved it can be hard to know what to do or say. They may struggle with several emotions such as shock, anger, depression and stress. This can be accompanied by loneliness and an increased feeling of isolation from their usual support networks.
Very often, people can fear approaching them and may feel awkward, intruding or scared they may say the wrong thing.
Although the pain of losing a loved one traumatically in a road crash cannot be taken away, friends can do a lot to provide support and comfort.
Lucy Harrison our member and West Midlands Local Group Coordinator has written about her experience as well as accounts from her friends who supported her after her brother Peter was tragically killed in a road crash.
“I have found that having supportive friends makes all the difference – on the days where I just didn’t know how to continue or felt completely overwhelmed my friends helped to provide some sanity and allowed me to be honest about what I was feeling. Friends cannot fix the situation, but they can help to prop you up and ease the loneliness. Six years on from Peter’s death I am finally in a better place and my friends had a huge part to play in helping me get there”. Lucy Harrison
Supporting a friend after a road death
If you have a friend that has been bereaved in a road crash, they will be going through one of the most difficult experiences in life. Although you may not even be able to imagine what they are going through or be able to take their pain away, support from friends can really help them manage to cope with this awful experience.
Six years ago, I was at what seemed like a good point – aside from my job, I had little responsibility and my life revolved around living for the weekend. I had a solid circle of friends from school and sixth form, and a wider group that I socialised with. Despite ups and downs, I don’t think I had ever felt truly lonely. Then my brother was killed, hit by a speeding driver. At times, grieving for Peter, left me so far down a black hole I had no idea how I would ever crawl out of it. It felt like my whole world had changed – and that change touched my friendships too.
A few days after my brother’s death, someone I had been close to, called me in floods of tears. I was really alarmed. This person then told me how they were having the worst day ever, the crux of which being they had slipped and twisted their ankle. I suppose normally, I would have been sympathetic, or tried to make them feel better. I couldn’t. I had zero emotional capacity to care. I remember the phone call ending with me feeling racked with guilt and like I was a bad friend, which was the absolute last thing I needed. There were countless other situations where I felt like I was disappointing people, because I couldn’t be the same person I was before Peter’s death. However, there were some friends who were on the complete opposite end of the scale, and who became a safety net, keeping me going in the bleakest of moments. I don’t believe that anyone can ‘fix’ what a bereaved person is feeling, but there were some crucial ways in which they helped me get through.
Finding new things to do together
In the aftermath of losing Peter, the thought of a night out horrified me. The need to pretend I was happy and full of fun, and to deal with loud music and large crowds was too much. When I did attempt it, I ended up a drunk mess (believe me my friends still tell the stories). So, people that really did want to see me, had to find new ways of doing so. I was barely sleeping and struggling to find any routine – my friends Valerie and Natalie would go for walks with me. Sometimes, Val and I would meet really early, it got me out of the house, and it was so quiet at that time in the morning that I could cry, without feeling like people were staring. I started to go to the cinema with another friend – watching a film meant spending time with someone without having to even make the effort to talk, sometimes we would get food after and sometimes we wouldn’t – there was never any pressure to have a fixed plan. Not too long after the court process finally finished, I went to Mexico with my friend and work colleague Sarah. Based on past events, everyone we worked with thought we would be going out big time (don’t get me wrong there were definitely a few moments of what happens in Cancun, stays in Cancun), but mostly we rested, read and talked – and I began to figure my mess of a head out.
Providing practical help
I don’t remember a huge amount about the wake, after Peter’s funeral – I was still in so much shock I think I was just about functioning. What I do remember is having my friends around me, like a protective wall. At no point did I go to the bar, get food, put my coat or bag somewhere safe – it was all done for me. Likewise, I will never forget being at Wolverhampton Crown Court for the first time, I was surrounded by family, but we were all traumatised – then, my friend Adam just appeared. He had taken the time to travel from Liverpool, just to be with us – and somehow already knew where the nearest coffee shop was, where the toilets were and had an endless supply of tissues – he came to and held my hand through every hearing.
At the time I lost my brother, I had recently changed to a new Manager at work. I didn’t know Diane very well – but she is now one of the closest people to me. I couldn’t talk much face to face, and would feel nervous to discuss that I needed some time off for court or to see the police – but I could write things down, so we would talk more via text at first, and she didn’t mind this. I was really struggling to eat, it was an unhealthy way of coping, but I wasn’t ready to discuss it – so she would bake cakes and leave them on my desk – with a note saying to try and eat a bit, or that when I felt ready, we could go for a coffee and a chat.
The first person I called when I found out about my brother’s death was my oldest friend Rose. However, after that initial conversation, Rose would text me, but didn’t call me or see me for a couple of weeks. I was surprised as we have a friendship where we would drop anything for each other in a crisis. Eventually Rose told me she was scared to call because she had never supported a friend through anything like this, and she didn’t know what to say or do. That honesty was crucial, and it was better for her to be open with me, than just ignore me, as some others did. The first couple of years after my brother’s death, my mood could change by the hour never mind the day – and sometimes little things could bring out a lot of anger – there were definitely moments my friends, including Rose (who knows me better than anyone) struggled to understand why I was acting in a certain way – but even when she couldn’t understand me, she stuck by me. There was this trip to Brighton, and I swear every little thing annoyed me.
As I’ve already alluded to, there were some dark moments – drunk, irrational, depressed – you name it, I have been it. At the worst point – I went down to a size 4. Sarah told me one of the ladies we work with was checking the bin under my desk, to see if I had thrown my lunch away. Another lady from our shop floor, stopped me one day, and told me she was so worried that I was disappearing, in front of her eyes. I didn’t know how to explain what the court process was doing to me – you never think you will have to look at the person who killed your loved one. Those that were genuine friends, never judged me – they never thought I was over-reacting or needed to pull myself together. I had counselling through Cruse, and then found the RoadPeace support group, which meant I could talk to people who had very similar experiences. There can be such a stigma about needing help like this, for a while I was embarrassed that I hadn’t been able to get through by standing on my own two feet – but my real friends – they never saw it like that. They actively encouraged me to go to counselling, and to the support group – even though, I think they found it hard that I could talk more to a bunch of strangers than to them. My friend Sarah also came to the doctors with me – it felt less scary to go with someone, and I could trust her that she would keep confidential what was said. Actually, it was probably more my friend Sarah dragged me to the doctors – and I think it was right that she did.
In many ways I am lucky because some of my friends knew my brother well – so we have shared memories of him and can recount hilarious nights out or trips to the races. One of the best things my friends do is allow Peter to be a subject of conversation. They don’t get uncomfortable if I mention him and understand that far from wanting to avoid talking about him, I want to look back on the happy times. My friends put a crazy amount of effort in on my 30th birthday and decided that Adam should make a speech – in which he pointed out that my brother was missing from the celebrations and asked everyone to raise a glass to him – that really meant the world. Diane never forgets the anniversary of Peter’s death – in fact, each year she has brought me a gift on this day to let me know she is thinking about my family. When my friend Elaine and I wanted to do some campaigning – Rose was one of our biggest encouragers, she never thought we should ‘move on’, but always believed in our wish to make something positive from our loss.
I think all in all, it must have been challenging to have been my friend during some of the last six years – and some friends lasted the distance, while others didn’t. However, they all played their part in helping. I learned I need people around me who will accept that even now, grief can sometimes knock me over – and I am so thankful to my friends who are there for the bad days as well as the good ones.
Rose, Diane, Adam, Amrit, Natalie, Valerie, Sarah – you guys are the best.
I will never forget the day Lucy told me; I was in Romford at a friend’s house after a night out. It was like 7am in the morning and the vibration of my phone woke me up. I was surprised to see Lucy’s number and I automatically knew something was wrong. She told me the news and I just felt complete sadness for her, for her brother and her family. I just remember I kept saying omg as I was in complete and utter shock. I remember all I could think about that night was the news I’d heard. I just wanted to take her pain away. As time went on, I remember checking in on Lucy but feeling like I shouldn’t call too much, as she would want space and want to be with her family. I think that’s how I’d be. I felt like I could feel her sadness and pain sometimes, which sounds kind of strange but true, it felt heavy. One day Lucy messaged me, and she was very upset, that I’d not called, and she felt let down as we were good friends. I was taken aback by this, as I thought I’d been supportive. But I realised I could do more; I know she would. I felt so bad. I started calling more, checking in more, but at times I felt that I was maybe crowding her. I’d let her talk through it, and I suggested maybe it would help getting counselling, to see a therapist, as they know what to say and do in situations like this. Lucy had already been looking into this. I was amazed how even going through such a traumatic experience, that she was still a true organised Virgo!
We went down to Brighton for a weekend trip, Lucy, my sister and me. From before the trip started Lucy was acting very differently to what I was used to. She was very upset and angry, which I rarely saw from my friend. At the time I didn’t fully understand, but deep down I knew she was dealing with her pain. I realised that I had been accidentally taking advantage Lucy’s infinite patience. Not realising that everything was adding up; the lack of support, the lateness, being blindly insensitive. I had been a terrible friend. I felt like I didn’t know how to be a good friend here, all I knew was that I shouldn’t abandon her. Also, that she needed people around her and that everyone had a role to play in their own way. I now see that I may not be the best person for emotional support, but I tried my best. I guess I was better at offering the motivational support, being a cheerleader and a loyal friend.
Fast track to today; I look at how far Lucy has come; she has come out the other side stronger and more resilient. She’s really a strong, amazing, kind human being. The things she’s been through and how she can still be so kind and giving amazes me and keeps me in awe at the same time. I’m really grateful that Lucy has had amazing people around her to support her and get her through this difficult time. The people around her truly care and it’s situations like this that really do separate the coal from the diamonds. I think Pete is looking down and is very proud of his little sister. I feel she is destined for great things and her perseverance through this has shown that she can get through anything.
I remember taking a phone call on a Sunday afternoon from Lucy, telling me her brother had been killed. My mind went blank, I could not believe the words she had just spoken with such dignity and poise; my heart was thumping in my chest. I just wanted to reach down the phone and give her a big hug.
I told Lucy not to even think about coming back to work until she felt ready and that I was there for her if she needed anything. The day Lucy returned to work I was feeling very anxious about what should I say, how should I act, I wasn’t scared I just wanted to be the best manager I could and offer her support, care and guidance. I kept thinking that I would say the wrong thing to her, then I would tell myself it’s better to talk than to be silent, silence is cruel and would make Lucy think she was invisible, that is not what I wanted.
Each day I would ensure that I spent time with Lucy, talking with her, asking her what she needed, if she was ok and at the same time trying to respect her wishes, I wanted to make the workplace a comfort blanket for her where she could come and feel safe, to temporarily take her mind away from the nightmare she was living and at the same time let her know how much I cared.
Over the coming months a friendship developed, and we became close, I think I understood what Lucy needed to get her through each day, maybe sometimes I would it get it wrong! I didn’t want Lucy to feel that she was alone and that she could trust me and talk with me in confidence. Dealing with grief in the workplace has been a new experience for me and one that has made me realise that support and friendship are so important to help in the healing process.
So, “your best friends’ brother was killed” is not something they tend to cover in the ‘how to be a best friend manual’.
Saturday 29th November 2014 is possibly the worse date ever for my best friend Lucy, it’s the day she lost her older brother Pete. For me, it was another Saturday, I woke up, think I went out with friends, got in late, inhaled something from a takeaway (cheesy garlic bread is a good contender for the night) then fell to sleep in my really comfy king sized bed without a care in the world and probably a few slices of garlic bread left for the next day. My world changed on Sunday 30th November, that’s when I found out my best friend lost her brother and I had no clue what to do or say for the first time in forever.
“I am here when you need me” is the first message I sent to Lucy when I found out, from that point I knew I had to commit to what I had said and be there for her when she needed me, I planned with work and did what I needed to do, but I made sure that I was present. From the first time I saw her after I found out, to Pete’s funeral, to every time she attended court, I was there no matter what I had to cancel or give up, I was there. There were times I couldn’t find the words to say, but at the very least I could give her my time when she needed it. Sometimes we didn’t speak – she would hold my hand and smile, sometimes we would talk for hours, it didn’t matter what we would talk about.
Supporting Lucy hasn’t always been easy, sometimes as a result of my own insecurities and just not knowing how to react to situations. My mouth, for example, tends to run away from me every so often and in hindsight there have been a few times where I should have thought before speaking. Over the years I’ve cried a few times thinking I wasn’t a good enough friend at that I should be doing more, doing better and it’s taken a while for me to learn that the best thing I can do to support Lucy is to be honest, be myself, be present and be ready to help whether it’s with a pack of tissues or sharing something on social media, just do what you can.
Updated on: 29 June 2020