Harford County has been impacted by fatal car accidents and tragic deaths in the first six months of 2012, leaving many of our friends and neighbors immersed in grief.
In February, in a car accident on Route 543. Last month, in Fallston. Just this week, County Council President on the family's Darlington farm.
These deaths are among at least 16 to take place on Harford County roadways this year. Add to these traffic fatalities the sudden , or at the hand of another person, and the toll continues to climb.
Nick McDonald, director of spiritual care with , confirmed what may seem to be the obvious: that in his experience, dealing with a sudden or violent death can be more unpredictable and difficult than dealing with other manners of death.
The grief surrounding sudden death can also be complicated by the circumstances, such as if illegal activity was involved. This can add a level of shame and make grieving more difficult.
McDonald said the accepted stages of grieving don't really apply to sudden death scenarios because the stages were devised under the assumption that there will be time to process that death is coming.
"The sudden death piece, there is no playbook for that," McDonald said.
With that being said, there are some things experts do know about dealing with sudden death.
"A really important part of sudden death is the notification process itself," McDonald said in a recent interview with Patch. "Just the way that’s done can make a big deal with the way grief is dealt with."
McDonald explained that over the years, law enforcement and medical staff have changed the way they notify families of a death. McDonald said people used to believe that it didn't matter how you broke the news of a death because people would be too stunned to remember it.
"What we’ve actually found out is they’re actually hyper alert," McDonald said.
McDonald said the news needs to be given directly to the family by an official, be it a doctor or member of law enforcement, and the word "death" along with the person's name have to be used to help the information sink in.
Outside of those basic factors, a supportive environment can be key to making the grieving process easier.
McDonald shared stories of two different death notifications at the same hospital. The first involved an officer in uniform approaching the family in the hospital halls, telling them of the death and leaving. McDonald said one family member screamed and 11 people were traumatized by the experience.
In contrast, about a year later a similar situation arose. This time, detectives spoke with hospital leadership, arranged for a member of the clergy to be present, brought the family into a separate room then shared the news. Personnel then stayed behind to answer any questions.
"It was a huge difference," McDonald said.
Seeing the body of a loved one is also an important part of the grieving process.
"It’s got to be pretty bad not to allow someone to view their loved one with support," McDonald said.
He explained the regret over not viewing a loved one can haunt a person and make dealing with the death more difficult.
"It seems like there’s a lot more grief work to do when you can’t be with the person you loved and lost," McDonald said.
By the same token, marking the space where a person has died plays a role in dealing with a sudden loss.
McDonald said memorials at the sites of fatal crashes happens because, "people were not there for that milestone at death as they were at birth."
Bereavement can also be made easier by planning. Knowing a loved one's wishes about artificially prolonging life, organ donation or that a person wanted a scholarship fund established in their name can take the pressure off the family.
"They have some direction," McDonald said, adding donating organs or setting up a fund, "sets the stage for something redemptive to happen."
He added this kind of planning is easier for those who are in later stages of life.
"It’s hard to have that conversation with your 25-year-old," McDonald said.
McDonald said Upper Chesapeake does not currently have a regular grief meeting scheduled, but recommended several resources including , and Mount Zion United Methodist Church, each of which hold grief groups.
is holding a session on dealing with grief on June 27. The event, entitiled "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye," is slated to take place at 7:30 p.m. at 1543 Redfield Road in Bel Air.