Grief, in its various forms and stages, is a natural part of life. Each person deals with grief in their own way, of course, and there is no "right" or "wrong" way to grieve. However, when grief follows a tragedy, coping with it may be more difficult than anticipated. How do you deal with the aftermath
of unexpected and sudden death caused by another person?
Many families contact an attorney to help them navigate the legal issues surrounding the wrongful death of a loved one, but have limited means of coping with the emotions that accompany such an event. How do you move forward after tragedy?
What is wrongful death?
Wrongful death is legally defined as:
The taking of the life of an individual resulting from the willful or negligent act of another person or persons.
In the beginning, wrongful death statutes were established to provide compensation for widows and orphans in the loss of the head of the family. These statutes also served to motivate others to exercise caution in their actions in order to prevent injuries.
How is wrongful death handled in the court system?
Laws regarding wrongful death vary from state to state, and these laws are civil rather than criminal in nature. A person who causes the death of another person through a willful or negligent act may face criminal action separate from the civil action. In some cases, a person may be acquitted in a criminal case but still must face civil action for the same incident.
How an individual or a family comes to terms with their loss and does the hard work of learning to live with the absence of a loved one differs from person to person. While an attorney can help to navigate the legal side of a wrongful death, often those left behind need more than legal help.
What to do about the emotions associated with wrongful death
Regardless of the outcome of a civil action in a wrongful death suit, the emotions in the aftermath can vary widely. It's important to remember that there is no timeline for grief, and no prescribed set of feelings that accompany the process.
- Allow time to grieve
Don't set an arbitrary timeline for your grieving process. Even after you have worked through the hardest part of your emotions, you may find that grief will circle back around at other times.
- Accept the emotions
What you feel will likely differ from what someone else feels. Common emotions include anger, guilt, remorse, hatred, helplessness, and in some cases, relief. There is no right or wrong way to feel.
- Seek help
Counseling and support groups can be wonderful resources for the grieving process. Individual and family counseling can help to put emotions in perspective, and help individuals to relate to one another in the grieving process. In addition, support groups allow people to share experiences common to the circumstances surrounding a loved one's death, lessening the feelings of isolation that some may feel. Support groups exist for just about every circumstance imaginable; do a little research and try out a group or groups that you feel comfortable meeting with.
Locally, St. Mary's has a list of Bereavement Support Groups on its website. Mental Health America of Vanderburgh County also can direct you to help. You may also find help through your church or funeral home.
Seeking legal help for a wrongful death is often the easiest decision that grieving families make. However, seeking help for the emotional aftermath may be harder to do. It's important to remember that while an attorney can help you to navigate the legal system, coping with grief is an individual process that can be boosted through counseling and support groups.