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Experts: Anger Is a Natural Response to Tragedy Like Recent Fatal Crash

Plenty of online resources offer suggestions for dealing with grief and its related emotions when people experience loss, as happened in Saturday’s deadly crash in Campton Hills.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one, whether family member or friend, is never easy and might be more difficult when the death is an accident or appears senseless.

The deaths of Jennifer Liston, 30, of Madison, Wis., and Zachary Bingham, 18, of Maple Park, on Saturday night, Dec. 1, certainly have elicited an array of emotional reactions, including anger toward Liston, who was driving at speeds of more than 100 mph before the accident along Route 38 in Campton Hills.

Liston was driving a car stolen in Wheaton. She was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Geneva before the deadly crash, and fled when a Kane County sheriff’s deputy began to pursue her. The deputy ended the chase when Liston hit speeds of more than 100 mph. Witnesses said she was driving fast and recklessly when she struck Bingham’s vehicle head-on, and involved two more vehicles in the crash. Two other people were hospitalized as a result of the crash, which closed the highway for hours afterward.

Few would argue that Liston made some poor choices. Sympathy for the victims of those choices was a common response among the comments St. Charles Patch readers submitted on the first article about the crash. But so was anger, which also is a normal response to loss.

“... This makes me so angry. What a selfish act. Glad she can't hurt any more innocent people,” JaneDoe commented on the article.

“I guess justice was served.. No trials, no taxpayer dollars, and she can't hurt anyone else. Prayers and thoughts to the young teen killed due to someone else's FOOLISHNESS,” wrote James McDonald.

But some comments directed anger toward Liston’s family, whose members also are victims in this tragedy. One such comment was removed by the moderator because it violated Patch’s terms of use policy.

People claiming to be members of Liston’s family or her friends also have posted some remarkably frank comments on the same article, apologizing for the woman’s actions.

“This women was a believer in god who made a choice that we all have to live with. I apologize for my sister action, please forgive her I know it will take time. But god heals all pain. Never walk a day with out god,” wrote someone posting as God Loves You.

“To all the families involved I apologize for the actions of this woman who I happen to have known,” wrote another person posting as Jill. “Her family was not supportive of her actions and does not deserve to rot. They made sure her children were out of harms way as Jennifer had never made the best of choices. We should only be thankful that they weren't in the car with her. Even though I knew her, I do not feel bad for her, but rather those affected by her poor choices.”

Their comments may help soothe some of those who wrote the angriest diatribes that also targeted Liston’s family.

The National Association of School Psychologists website is geared toward parents and educators, but its advice for dealing with strong emotional reactions to traumatic events extends to others as well.

“How adults express their emotions will influence the reactions of children and youth,” the website states. “Parents and teachers can help youngsters manage their feelings by both modeling healthy coping strategies themselves and closely monitoring their own emotional state and that of the children in their care.”

The site goes on to note that “anger will be a natural extension of other emotions because it is a defensive mechanism that makes us feel more in control.  As well, anger with the perpetrators of these horrible acts is, in many ways, justified.”

But the National Association of School Psychologists also warns, “Adults must ensure that children do not ‘take out’ their anger in inappropriate ways, such as lashing out at classmates or neighbors who might be unfairly associated with the perpetrators of violence because of their ethnicity or other affiliations. The key is to direct anger and other strong emotions in socially and psychologically healthy ways.”

The site goes on to offer suggestions for dealing with and controlling anger in ways mental health experts consider healthy and less likely to escalate into other problems.

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JuleS December 05, 2012 at 09:20 PM
Very helpful article, and well-thought. I do not feel anger, nor should others, toward the family of a 30-year-old woman who behaves in a reckless manner such as this accident, because at 30 years she's an independent adult and making her own decisions -- she's not being advised by family members to drive recklessly not to steal a car. The fact that family members and friends are publicly apologizing for her actions reflects well on them. We all know how much pain they must feel that an innocent bystander was killed, not because of anything they did wrong, but because of what Jennifer did wrong. She's not suffering for it, but her family will for the rest of their lives.

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