What can friends do after a car accident?
June 19, 2007 3:15 AM   Subscribe

One of my best friends just had a major car accident in which a motorcyclist died. What can I do to help him out?

My friend is physically unhurt, and there is no question of it being his fault (the bike was going too fast round a corner on the wrong side of the road; the rider unfortunately died at the scene). He's somewhat shocked, to say the least, but claims that he's OK. Beyond giving him lifts while he is carless, is there anything I can do to help him out? Saying "dude, that sucks" is so inadequate and it feels like there's something obvious I'm forgetting that I could be doing. He's the extroverted type and I don't think giving him space is the answer.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water to Human Relations (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Keep him company. Buy him dinner. Just be a friend.
posted by robcorr at 3:26 AM on June 19, 2007

As time goes on, don't assume he won't have guilty feelings, even though they're not justified. And if he does, don't brush them aside just because they're not justified.
posted by game warden to the events rhino at 4:16 AM on June 19, 2007

You can check in with him regularly. You can say something like, "Hey dude, I heard that this kind of thing can be pretty scary. How are you doing with all of it?" or "You know, anytime you want to talk, I am around." Stuff like that will let him know that you are around, available, and not uncomfortable talking about potentially heavy things, without pushing him too much. I think the most important thing is reminding him you are there all the time.
posted by sneakin at 4:42 AM on June 19, 2007

If he were a girl, he would vacillate between paralyzing guilt (either for killing someone or for killing someone and then not feeling anything) and a desire-bordering-on-need to feel normal, forgetful, happy. You should be available on both ends of the spectrum, willing to talk about the emotional avalanche and fall out (which should be done as sneakin has suggested above) and also available to be convivial, merry, and boisterous, depending on the mood. I would advise against being too solicitous, especially if he's brushing you off. Don't make a bigger deal of this than he is, don't insist that he be more upset than he actually is. But check in with him regularly and be available for good times or bad as much as you can.
posted by bluenausea at 4:49 AM on June 19, 2007

Has he considered attending the funeral or the viewing? It's a place where we seek closure and let the healing begin. If there isn't any doubt on liability, there isn't much of a reason to not to have an opportunity to grieve with the victim's family and acknowledge their loss. Your friend is not a murderer and I think the family is unlikely to treat him like one at the funeral.

You, as the best friend, could go with him for support.
posted by peeedro at 5:25 AM on June 19, 2007

I think going to the funeral is a bad idea. If he needs to make some gesture, send flowers or make a donation to charity.
posted by electroboy at 5:53 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I felt like I'd murdered my father, I felt so guilty when he died... I was alone with him when it happened.

Remind him over and over it wasn't his fault.

Be with him, talk to him, not necessarily about things related - in fact preferably not! but just not shunning him is the most important thing you can do... the number of people who ust ignored me when Dad died shocked me - it made me feel like I'd done something wrong in having a parent suddenly die.

Being there helps far more than people realise - and even acknowledging his pain helps more than you think - I can remember a teacher reiterating that it really sucked when my dad died, after I'd initially brushed her off - that meant something to me, having permission to feel like shit about it.

Some friends of mine still tell me I need to go to counselling about Dad, and that it's not normal for me to still grieve 10 years later - bullshit. It's very normal - and not only have I been going to counselling, I've been told by the professionals that I'm coping extraordinarily well.

My point being, reassure him frequently that it is OK for him to not be over it. People who haven't had to grieve don't realise that grief never ends... I've heard it described as a hole in a sock... over time the hole is darned and filled in, but the sock is never the same again... wearable, but there's a massive darn in it.

That's my experience with grief, anyway. I find that people are either too upset to discuss it at all, or need to talk about it incessantly to deal with it - I'm the latter!

posted by jonathanstrange at 5:54 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I strongly recommend not going to the funeral. My grandfather died in a car accident that wasn't the driver's fault, but there were people at the funeral that didn't see it that way. Unless the family makes a point of inviting him, it's just as likely to cause more hurt (on both sides) than any 'healing' or 'closure'.
posted by carmen at 5:59 AM on June 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

I agree about not encouraging your friend to attend the funeral. A close family member of mine died much the same way in an accident and it was extremely painful to see the lady who's car hit him at the funeral (though none of us ever blamed her). The family does not need added pain.

However, a card and note some time down the road would probably be appreciated, one that expresses sorrow but does not attempt to put a burden of 'forgiveness' upon the family.
posted by LadyBonita at 6:14 AM on June 19, 2007

He can always visit the gravesite. That might help. You can offer to go with him, taking a walk before or afterwards. Having some structure to these types of events helps, as they are emotionally-laden and not done often. One thing that you can do in your spare time is be informed...learn about the 5 stages of grieving, find out where the gravesite is, look into resources that might help him, etc.

That way, if say, he does decide to visit the site, it won't make things harder on him if he leans on you. You'll know where to go instead of him having to explain the way. Things like that can become incredibly hard when it's not laid out—even in happy times (how often do you not bother going to store X because you're not quite sure where it is, etc.?)
posted by iamkimiam at 6:35 AM on June 19, 2007

I would advise against being too solicitous, especially if he's brushing you off. Don't make a bigger deal of this than he is, don't insist that he be more upset than he actually is. But check in with him regularly and be available for good times or bad as much as you can.

Agree completely -- don't harp on the issue at all if he doesn't bring it up. And don't be over-solicitious or "feelingly" if he's not interested in talking about it. Just be available, and try to be a good listener if he brings it up, but don't feel the need to point the conversation in that direction, or even say anything. Your continued presence should be enough.

Just make sure it doesn't seem like you're treating him with kid gloves; that would be irritating.

Also, I don't think going to the funeral would be helpful or appropriate, but YMMV. Maybe a donation, if he wants to, but I wouldn't encourage it. That's his thing to do if he wants to.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:26 AM on June 19, 2007

Even though it's absolutely not his fault, he still might be having trouble letting go of a feeling of responsibility.

You could try encouraging him to tell you about the accident at length and with as much repetition as he needs, and reassuring him over and over that there was nothing he could have done. If you're up for it-- and he is-- you could take him to the scene of the accident and walk through it with him, letting him narrate it to you, and when you see it overwhelming him, putting your arm around his shoulder and telling him forcefully that he is a good person, and no one could ever blame him for what happened here. Then, if you can afford it, take him out to a big dinner, and see him safely home to bed.

If you do anything like this, however, be prepared to feel some pretty intense emotion yourself, and be sure you really want this guy as a friend for life, because the bond between you will be greatly strengthened.
posted by jamjam at 8:58 AM on June 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you push him on the issue of sharing his feelings and going over what happened, it's likely to make him angry or upset. Either, right now, he really is over the trauma and just wants to move on, or he's so traumatized that he isn't able to handle the guilt/fear/shock of it yet. Either way, if you keep making him relive it, he will not appreciate it. Chances are, at some point, he will want to talk about it, but it'll have to be at his own time, when he is ready.

The greatest feeling in the world, when you're upset or hurt, is to know that there are people who will be there. Hang out with him, even for activities as trivial as going to the grocery store. When that's not possible, call him up just to say hey every now and then -- find goofy online videos and send him links, share stupid anecdotes from daily events. You don't have to say "I am concerned about you because of your recent traumatic experience and would like to help you confront whatever negative emotions you may be feeling." He will know what you mean if you say, "Hey, I just wanted to see how you're doing. What's up?"
posted by Ms. Saint at 9:12 AM on June 19, 2007

"Dude that sucks" really can help. When I was going through a really hard time, a lot of people wanted to talk about how I was feeling, analyze crap, alleviate my negative emotions, or distract me for random crap. The comment I appreciated the most was a heartfelt, "Man, that must really suck." Yes! It did! The person who said that seemed to understand me better than anybody else.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 9:56 AM on June 19, 2007

I agree that "Dude, that sucks" can be the best thing you could possibly say. Or just nodding, or saying "yeah." Anything that indicates that you are listening.

Try to avoid giving advice of ANY kind, not even "keep busy" or "You should talk about it" or other seemingly neutral things. Go ahead and ask if there's anything you can do, but don't assume you know what he needs.
posted by wryly at 12:13 PM on June 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you for your suggestions, everybody. I found something out that may change the situtation: the guy on the bike left a suicide note before leaving home last night. Damn.

That actually made my friend feel a hell of a lot better.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 12:22 PM on June 19, 2007

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