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Additional complications for those grieving

Depending on where the death occurred, your relationship with the person who died and the circumstances in which the death happened, different questions might be raised or different feelings might be emphasised.

Suicide

Certain common grief reactions are often made more complicated and difficult to resolve when death has resulted from suicide. These are reactions which can follow any type of sudden death, but which often become particularly intense when the deceased person has taken their own life.

Searching for reasons

Many people find their thoughts get stuck on trying to explain what has happened, often for long periods of time. They go over and over the events, trying to work out why things occurred as they did and how they could have been different. This search for answers can be exhausting and often futile. Generally the only person who can really explain what has happened is the person who has died.

Anger

People bereaved by suicide often experience a sharp sense of abandonment and rejection. This can sometimes lead to anger, often directed at the person who has died, but also at individuals you feel have in some way influenced the decision of the deceased person. To experience anger at the person you are grieving is one of the most common but confusing and distressing aspects of bereavement.

Self-blame

Many people blame themselves for not anticipating the death and should have done something to prevent it. They replay talks and arguments they had with the deceased person, regretting things they may have said or done which they fear may have influenced the decision. It can take many months before people come to recognise that nothing they said and did, or didn't say and didn't do, is to blame for someone's decision to suicide.

Stigma

Many families feel unable to discuss the cause of death with friends and more distant relatives, often out of a sense of embarrassment or a fear that either they themselves, or the deceased person, will be judged by others. It is also common for people to feel unsure about the best thing to say to a bereaved family after a suicide. They don't want to aggravate the pain felt by the family so sometimes choose to say nothing. Unfortunately, this only results in the family feeling more isolated and unsupported. Support after suicide works in two directions. It is important that the family is open and honest with others so that they are receptive to support, while those around them need to be honest and patient with the family. People bereaved by suicide need to talk. Those who care for them need to listen.

Death of a child

No words can describe the pain experienced by a family following the sudden death of a child. The life of every family member is changed in a way that is frightening, confusing, and for many people, difficult to believe.

As well as the usual grief responses, bereaved parents can also experience other feelings and reactions.

Yearning

A strong physical urge to hold their child, an aching need to feel them, hear them and speak to them.

Loss of meaning

A feeling that life has no point, that they have nothing left to care about or plan for or that they will never be happy again.

Shocked confusion

A sense that somehow the natural order of life has been turned upside down. Most commonly this is expressed as a feeling that children should bury their parents.

Deep anxiety

Feelings of deep anxiety about the world and the safety of other family members.

Self-blame

Regardless of the circumstances, parents frequently judge themselves harshly following the death. They blame themselves for accidents and for failing to protect their child or for not having done enough or having made a simple mistake. Often parents will refuse to give themselves the understanding and sympathy they would offer someone else in the same situation.

Over-protectiveness

Parents often become very anxious about the safety of surviving children. It's not usual for them to be reluctant to be separated from their children or to be constantly checking on their welfare. Responsible concern is always appropriate but over-protectiveness can have the effect of causing conflict as well as denying the children the space they need to process their own grief.

Difficulty relating to surviving children

Parents may become so preoccupied with thoughts of the child they have lost that they experience difficulty in relating to there surviving children. They can feel themselves becoming irritable and resentful, despite their best intentions. The children become confused and the parents themselves feel upset at their own behaviour but are unable to change. This is a common, but very distressing, aspect of parental grief which many people find difficult to discuss. Talking about these feelings honestly to a trusted friend or a counsellor can be a great help here.

The future

Many bereaved parents feel that they will never get over their loss. They slowly rebuild their lives but keep with them a sadness which, over the years, becomes less sharp and more a part of life. At a certain point they realise they are feeling stronger; that they can face being happy. They haven't forgotten their child nor do they love them any less. They are simply healing.

Motor vehicle accidents

Along with the common emotional responses to grief, there are often a number of difficult questions facing family and friends of people who die in a motor vehicle accident. These include questions like:

  • What caused the accident?
  • Who was driving?
  • Was the deceased person in the wrong?
  • Will anyone be charged?
  • Was anyone else hurt?
  • Who was at fault?

They are questions that may not be answered quickly, if at all, and which may have lasting consequences.

Investigating procedures

Following a motor vehicle accident where a death occurs, a specialist investigation team from the Queensland Police Services, known as the Forensic Crash Unit (FCU) attend and control the investigation. The FCU is responsible for investigating how an accident has occurred and if any should be prosecuted. The FCU submits a report of their findings to the coroner.

The evidence contained in the coroner's brief may also be important for matters lying outside the jurisdiction of the coroner. This includes such matters as claims on insurance policies, other claims concerning liability for damage to property of for personal injury or death and disputes between parties arising from these claims. It is important to remember that some matters may take time to be finalised.

Insurance issues

As insurance rules vary and can change frequently, consult with your insurer or your solicitor if you have any concerns or questions about insurance issues.

Homicide

Homicide is a crime that has a profound and lasting impact on the victim's family and friends. As well as being confronted with the death of someone close in violent circumstances, people can feel further distressed by having to deal with the police, the media, the criminal justice system and other organisations. The combination of often traumatic grief with contact from a number of intimidating, confusing systems can be extremely difficult for families.

Grief reactions to homicide

There are a number of grief reactions which are commonly experienced by people following the murder of someone close. These include:

Intrusive thoughts

Intrusive thoughts about the violent way in which the person died can be graphic and intense. These thoughts may be about how they imagine the person suffered or actual memories from the scene of the crime or mortuary. These are sometimes referred to as flashbacks because they are vivid and feel real to the person experiencing them. They often occur when the bereaved person is trying to rest, so are disruptive of sleep and concentration.

Anger

Anger is an obvious and unsurprising emotional reaction experienced by families in these circumstances. People often experience intense feelings of rage and fantasies about revenge. They also experience frustration with the slow pace of the investigation and the legal processes which follow. This is an important issue for many families and can become overwhelming at times. One of the best ways of ensuring this does not get out of hand is to stay as informed as possible about the progress of the case and the reasons behind any delays.

Fear

Fear is also a common response for families of victims of homicide. This can include fear for the safety of other family members (and yourself) as well as fear for the person who has died. The effects a homicide has on individuals and families may be long lasting and many aspects of life can be affected. For example, personal relationships, work, social life, physical, emotional and spiritual well being, values and beliefs about the world may all change. Remember that communicating openly about your feelings and respecting differences in your grieving are important factors in overcoming any strain.

It is important to know that reactions to the homicide of a loved one can often be more intense and last longer than expected. As it is so unusual, people may not understand what is happening. If you are finding it difficult to cope with the intense reactions or feelings, it may help to talk to a counsellor.

Need support?

Coronial Family Services can provide advice and information about bereavement counselling services for family members of persons whose deaths are being, or have been, investigated by a Queensland coroner.

Please call +61 7 3096 2794 or 1800 449 171 Monday to Friday, 8.30am to 4.30pm or email FSS.counsellors@health.qld.gov.au.

Other services you can contact for support include:

Last updated: 23 February 2018