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Supporting the Survivors ~ In the Early Days

Two people sitting and supporting each other. "I've got you bro."

It's all good bro,

We can just sit,

I got you.

       I got you.

The impact of an accidental death does not just affect the person who caused the death, it also significantly affects all those around that person. There is a deep knowing that nothing will ever be the same again and those supporting have to watch alongside the suffering, often feeling completely helpless.


Emotions will likely run strong and deep.  Maybe the best early advice given from a fellow survivor to all involved was “It will feel like you won’t breathe for the first three months at least. Just take one moment at a time.”


What to expect from the survivors:

  • Strong emotions

  • Possible angry outbursts

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Feelings of hopelessness

  • Unable to re-engage with usual activities

  • A sense of losing one’s place in the world

What can you do in the early days:

  • Sit together

  • Use physical touch if you can, when you can, as often as you can

  • If you are able, reassure your loved one of your unconditional love and acceptance

  • Walk together

  • Be in nature together

  • Find manual tasks that can be done side by side. For example, garden together, crack nuts, fold washing

  • Drawing together may provide a gentle activity

  • Get a puzzle out - it is surprisingly calming at 2.00am when you cannot sleep

  • Make food and eat together, if you can

  • Play music that has no lyrics and has neutral emotion. Music and media can be highly triggering so choose carefully what is playing in the home

  • Lower expectations for social gatherings. Even the evening meal at the dinner table can be too hard

  • Give plenty of hugs

  • Cry together

  • Do not worry about prompting the memory of the survivors; the memory is sitting with them always


When suffering trauma it is often difficult to manage planning, organising oneself or even the simple act of talking on the phone. As soon as you are able, organise for yourself, or someone close, to provide practical help for the person at the centre of the trauma, and possibly their family and main support people:

  • Find appropriate agencies and advocate on behalf of the person requiring support. For example, ACC communication, doctor's appointments. A traumatised survivor will likely need considerable support with these tasks.

    • A support person can speak with the doctor on their behalf as long as the person is present.

    • ACC will allow someone to speak on behalf of a client who is unable to advocate for themselves. This can be set up over the phone.

  • Seek advice from a lawyer, if necessary

  • Speak with employers or employees

  • Buy supplies

  • Manage childcare

  • Check on responsibilities that need seeing to. For example, paying bills, updating phone plans and so on

Employers, ACC and Te Hiranga Tangata Work and Income require a medical certificate to provide evidence to enable time off work and access to benefits or one-off payments. At a doctor's visit be sure to ask the doctor to note any physical injuries and mental trauma your person may have sustained in the accident. The doctor can record time required away from work.


ACC, at the time of writing (2023), does not cover mental trauma, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD, as a result of an accident. The symptoms of mental trauma can sometimes be very similar to those manifesting as the result of a physical injury. In the case of a head injury, the symptoms of trauma and concussion can be the same. If there is a possibility of a head injury ask for a concussion assessment as soon as possible after the accident.


The person you are supporting may be resistant to support. This can be expected from one who has suffered a trauma. Resist pulling back. Your support provides great value. 

​Build a Community Around the Survivor

We encourage you to share this website widely with friends and supporters, even those not closely impacted. It is often difficult to empathise when one has not had direct experience with accidental death. Many have mentioned how they wish they had had access to a site such as this to help bring understanding and compassion. 

​Remembering the Others

When a home is filled with anguish, desperation and grief it is important to recognise that it can be a scary space for the 'others'; small children, siblings, other family members who may not be immediately impacted. As soon as you can find space and time to:

  • Reassure them of your love

  • Provide information to help bring understanding to the intense emotions being experienced

  • Provide hugs and physical reassuring touch

  • Explain that in time things will be different but that it may take longer than they think

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