Grieving a Death
Blamed on the Deceased

The following email was sent to me by someone who is grieving a death blamed on the deceased. In this case it was a young man who was drunk driving. It could also relate to suicide or other recklessness behavior. Professional counselor Marnie Macauley answers the question.

"I came onto this site to try to find a way to deal with the anger I feel as I'm grieving. It's been helpful in understanding that anger is a common part of grief but it is often mentioned that anger is directed towards drunk drivers who have killed a loved one. What do you do when it is the drunk driver you are grieving for? My best friend died after drunk driving and crashing into a tree. Its so hard when people's reactions are so unsympathetic (I don't mean on here) because they think he was an idiot for doing it. I think he was too and that's why I'm angry that he wasted his life of 18 years in such a stupid way..I love him and miss him so much but can't get over how angry I am at him for doing this to us (his friends) and his family. What was the point? It is so lucky that he didn't harm anyone else but its very difficult when the person you're grieving for is seen as the 'baddy' when I know he would never intentionally harm anyone and just thought he was invincible. Sorry for rambling. I think I need to. Thank you."

Marnie's response to grieving a death blamed on the deceased:

Honey, this is the most difficult sort of grief! When the victim dies as a result of poor judgment, breaking the law, or yes, even suicide, family and friends also feel victimized, with triple the rage! Yet, unlike other mourners, true empathy and sympathy are compromised.

Painfully straight-up, there are wafting, often unstated feelings by you or others of ““He could’ve killed innocent people!” “Didn’t he give a damn about himself? US?” and the odious, “Well, he asked for it! (or ‘deserved’ it!)” Add to that a huge dose of guilt. (“Could I have done something!”) The death of a loved one is painful enough, without tacking on these burdens, along with the usual support we expect. So let’s look at this another way.

Strategies When Dealing with Death Blamed on the Deceased:

  • I’ve yet to meet a human being who hasn’t taken at least a few dangerous risks, especially during the teen years. Think about how many times, you and those you know did something incredibly stupid – and survived, sometimes I think by the grace of the God of Nikes who looks after children and teens. And we tell ourselves, “ Never again!” Tragically, for some there is no “second chance.” Ask yourself, “Do young people deserve one?” You bet! Would your friend have learned had he that second chance? Let’s hope so.
    Hold onto that thought.
  • Know that the part of the brain that deals with what we call “judgment” isn’t fully developed until we’re in our mid-twenties! Many teens feel invincible. They take risks at 18, they wouldn’t at 25. I think, for example of Natalee Holloway, the terrific teen who disappeared on May 30, 2005, during a high school graduation trip to Aruba. With her whole future in front of her, during the trip she engaged in risky behavior which may have contributed to the tragedy. Here again we see that kids sometimes do foolish things, based on immaturity. And many of them are good kids, nice kids, smart kids!
    Hold onto that!
  • Instead of focusing on what he did wrong, focus on him. I’m certainly not advocating drinking and driving! But understand and try to forgive the fact that he was “a kid.” And, kids will make huge mistakes. Usually they survive. Your friend wasn’t that lucky. But that doesn’t diminish the kind of person he was, the joy he brought, the love you and others felt and will always feel for him. That mistake cost him and all of you dearly. Feel free to mourn without compromise or judgment.
  • Use your anger constructively! Now that you know the whys, and the horrific consequences of teens acting recklessly, do something active in his memory. Join or start an organization to educate others about teens and drunk driving, create a living memorial as a reminder of him, and a cautionary tale to others.
  • Then, honey, feel free to grieve, without compromise! Grieve for him, this marvelous human being, with forgiveness and understanding. And by doing something constructive, not only will you be able to make some sense of the senseless, you’ll help turn this tragedy into something meaningful, which pays tribute to him, and will save the lives of others in his name.


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