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Recovering from road trauma

Road Trauma Support Services Victoria’s CEO Bernadette Nugent addresses the crowd of supporters at the Shine a Light event this year.
Road Trauma Support Services Victoria’s CEO Bernadette Nugent addresses the crowd of supporters at the Shine a Light event this year.

by Sandra Moon

When newly married Jo Keep heard a knock at the door at 3am she knew something wasn’t right. Her husband Gavin had left for work earlier that night and his shift wasn’t over. Jo and Gavin had been married six weeks earlier and returned to live with Jo’s parents to prepare for their new life together.

They answered the door on that night and were met by two policemen who informed them that Gavin had been in a fatal car crash with another vehicle.

Jo said her heart split in two. Her husband of six weeks, the love of her life, was gone forever.

“The following day, still in a state of shock, I needed to go to the morgue to identify his body. I remember praying ‘Please God, don’t let it be him’. I felt sick as we walked in and I was escorted into a room where my husband, my future, lay lifeless on a table. It felt cold, surreal, intimidating.”

Due to the coroner’s investigation, Jo wasn’t allowed to bury him for ten days: “We had no will written up. I mean, who needs a will at 37 years of age? It was the last thing on our minds. The paperwork side of things was just too much for me, so my brother helped me get it done. I was seriously a mess.”

As part of her grief journey, Jo got in contact with Roadside Trauma Support Services Victoria (RTSSV),  a counselling, support and education service.

RTSSV CEO Bernadette Nugent said there are many aspects to grief for people who have experienced loss through road trauma and in fact for any death that happens suddenly and is of a violent nature for example a car crash, fire and murder.

Bernadette said there is grief from the loss and trauma from the violent nature of the death which can cause flashbacks for those left behind, even if they weren’t at the site.

“People are dealing with loss and sudden loss and the taking of a loved one in a violent way. There is the shock and trying to wade through emotions such as anger at the circumstances and blame if the fatality could have been avoided, especially a car crash that wasn’t the person’s fault.”

According to Bernadette there are some key things people can do to help with their grief and trauma. Firstly, get access to good information and support from an organisation like RSSV, so you know what to expect and what can be provided.

Secondly, make sure you do the basics of looking after yourself such as eating properly and sleeping well and getting even five minutes of respite.

Thirdly, develop support network with people who will provide a safe space for you to be what you need to be at that moment, including being sad. Receiving support can range from just having someone be there. Or for parents who have lost a partner it could be someone taking the kids to school, bringing over a meal or mowing the lawn.

Bernadette, who spent seven and a half years as RSSV’s Counselling Manager prior to becoming CEO said: “We often say there isn’t going to be a linear process and I think one of the things about grief is it is a lot of the unexpected. The size of the hole of grief doesn’t necessarily go away but slowly people are able to build a life around their grief.”

They can find meaning, some joy and eventually experience these without feeling guilty about it.

For some, recovery starts withsharing their stories and connecting with others who have experienced a similar loss and trauma.

If road trauma has affected you or somebody you know, you can share another’s experience by watching RTSSV volunteer Martin Wrangle tell his story.

The Australian Road Trauma Safety Foundation  also has some stories to share on the journey beyond trauma.

You can get involved in events such as the upcoming Rural Road Safety Month in September 2021 or keep an eye out for RTSSV’s next Shine A Light on Road Safety campaign.

And do revisit our post from a year ago: Harvard Medical School’s resource on grief.

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