Episode 43

Published on:

21st Mar 2023

The Ultimate Shame: The Tragedy and Trauma of Causing Accidental Death

Today, as always, we want to shine a light in the darkness-- and so we're going where civil, "polite" discussions often don't.

We're talking about the traumatic, tragic shame of accidentally killing someone.

Dr. Maryann Gray is the founder of The Hyacinth Fellowship, a support network for those who are living in the darkness of having unintentionally caused death or serious injury. Having traveled that path with a heartbreaking accident of her own, it took her decades to recover-- but she's offering hope for those who are ready to break the silence.

Join us for a sensitive, compassionate, and sometimes difficult but ultimately enlightening conversation.

Check out The Hyacinth Fellowship here.

Follow Baggage Check on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast and get sneak peeks of upcoming episodes, give your take on guests and show topics, gawk at the very good boy Buster the Dog, and send us your questions!

Here's more on Dr. Andrea Bonior and her book Detox Your Thoughts.

Here's more on this podcast, which somehow you already found (thank you!)

Credits: Beautiful cover art by Danielle Merity, exquisitely lounge-y original music by Jordan Cooper


Dr. Maryann Gray: I began keeping it a secret. And by the time I moved to California two years after the accident to begin my doctoral studies, really, I didn't tell anybody what had happened, and that continued for many, many years. Even my husband, he knew what happened in the broadest, most general strokes, but we never talked about it. And he had no idea how much mental space that child and that trauma occupied in my mind.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Today, we are talking about something particularly difficult the trauma and tragedy of, uh, unintentionally killing or seriously injuring someone. We have Dr. Maryann Gray, the founder of the highest in fellowship, who's come to spread the word and offer hope to people in this situation after a devastating tragedy of her goal. You likely know someone in this situation even if you don't realize it. Let's put an end to the silence and offer some light on today's Baggage Check.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Welcome.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: I am particularly glad that you are here today for this one. I'm Dr. Andrea Bonyer and this is Baggage Check : Mental Health Talk and Advice with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Baggage Check is not a show about luggage or travel incidentally.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: It is also not a show about techniques you use for filling out your March Madness bracket. All right, on to it, because we have much more profound things to discuss today than some throwaway absurdities. Hopefully, we always have more important things to discuss than some throwaway absurdities, but I love the throwaway absurdities, so there is that.

Anyway, let's get to today's show. When I told a friend about the topic for this upcoming episode, uh, she audibly gasped.

own role in a tragedy in the:

So, Dr. Gray, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today.

I am so glad to have you here at Baggage Check.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Delighted to be here. Thanks for asking me.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: So let's start off by talking about the Hyacinth Fellowship. I know it's recently undergone a name change, but obviously it's something that professionally and personally means so much to you. It means so much to the people that it's helping. Can you talk to me about how it got started and what kind of support it provides?

ncorporated as a nonprofit in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Wow.

have an email list of roughly:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. The first thing that I'm thinking about, as you mentioned, that to your knowledge, you're the only organization about that, is just how realistic it sounds that that's the case, and how struck I am by all of my years in the field. It seems like this particular scenario, this particular emotional anguish, has the least public support by far. Like you said, I can think of some of the most rare experiences, and somebody can go online, and they can find 15 Facebook groups about it, or they can have all kinds of listservs, all kinds of group support, all kinds of nonprofits spreading awareness. And isn't it interesting that something like this, which probably affects so many more people than most people would realize, or most people would guess that there's a complete dearth of public conversation about it? Because you're thinking, I know when I've chatted with you in the past, you've mentioned just rough estimates. The amount of folks that might be in this position. It's astronomical compared to how little we talk about it.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Yeah. We've estimated and we hope to do research that will give us better data in the near future. At this point, we estimate that about 30,000 to 35,000 people per year in the US. Alone unintentionally kill someone, mostly in car crashes. Wow. Um, and the number of people who unintentionally seriously injure someone seriously enough for them to need emergency room or hospital care is probably ten times that many. So what I tell people is, if you think you don't know someone that has done this, you do. They're just not talking about it.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Right. And so how do people typically find you? All I know you mentioned sort of some of the ways you've gotten word out and social media and all of these. When people find you, is it typically after a while? I imagine some people maybe are carrying this around for a really long time, and then they finally find you as a support. Would you say that that's typical? I imagine most people don't know where to go right away after, and maybe they feel like they don't deserve to immediately be focused on their own healing, because they are focused on all of the moral aspects and the guilt and the shame and everything of the harm that they've caused. What do you tend to see in terms of that?

Dr. Maryann Gray: It's a really good point. We see the gamut. We have, uh, mostly younger people who go right to the web that's just who they are, and immediately find us and connect with us within days or weeks of becoming we, uh, call it caddy causing accidental death or injury. So within days of becoming a caddy, they're reaching out to us for support and guidance.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Wow. Some people. It really is that soon.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Yeah. Uh, some people it is. And at the other end, we have people who show up and they say, I had a car crash that killed someone 45 years ago, and I've never talked about it. This is the first time I've ever talked about it. This is the first time I've ever been in a setting with other people who have had similar experiences and understand what it's like. And that could be really powerful.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. To think of what they've carried around all of those decades in that space and to finally find a sense of belonging among people who get it. I mean, we know that grief work in general. It's so powerful to have a sense of belonging with somebody who understands. And in this, it's such a sort of particular complication of trauma and grief that's very unique. And I imagine that that's just so powerful. How did you personally get involved in this type of work? I know it's a story that you're willing to talk about. To some extent, you have a personal connection to this. And I think maybe in some ways, that's important for our, uh, listeners to understand, too, that, you know, this journey yourself, that you're not just speaking in an academic way or in an administrative way or just a compassionate way for others, but that you can truly understand in a lot of ways what they're going through.

d graduate student this is in:

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Wow. And it hits me there that once you were able to actually start talking about it out loud, and to be fully present in speaking those words and being authentic about it, it actually opened you up to the world in such a way where you could put more good out there into the world. I think so many times with anything where people believe that they need to punish themselves, even if it's something a lot milder than what we're talking about here, people think, well, my penance is to just close myself off. And they don't realize that if they can eventually get to the point where they can allow themselves to open themselves up to the world and to own what happened and to be authentic about it, that gives them the chance to put good back into the world in a way that they can't. If they're sitting, beating themselves up and closing themselves off because they think they don't deserve to be out there living.

Dr. Maryann Gray: You've summed up the organization's philosophy beautifully. We talk a lot about PTSD and trauma as a society, we talk less about moral injury. Moral injury is, uh, not yet, at least, in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. That's the bible of mental health providers. Uh, but it's receiving a lot of attention by both practitioners and researchers these days. And it's the psychological and spiritual challenges we face when we transgress against our own moral standards, when we fail to live up to the expectations we hold for ourselves. And I'm not talking about forgetting someone's birthday and feeling terrible about it. Uh, I'm talking about soldiers. This originated in a military context. So we're talking about soldiers who participated in atrocities or unintentionally killed civilians. So these are very severe kinds of transgressions. And the effects of moral injury overlap with PTSD. But where PTSD is primarily fear and anxiety based, moral injury is guilt and shame based. And one of the effects of that is denying ourselves pleasure, punishing ourselves. But also, and I think this one is particular pernicious, withdrawing, uh, isolating. As you said, we lose our sense of belonging, and we choose to be alone, no matter how many people we're surrounded with who are, on some level, profoundly alone. The solution to moral injury is not to somehow relieve ourselves of guilt or try to minimize or excuse what occurred. It's to face what occurred with integrity. And that takes courage. Say yes. I did this. I killed a child, and to take that energy and channel it in a pro, social, constructive way rather than turn it against ourselves. So I talk about honoring our victims by making choices that make the world a better place. So how do you honor the memory? How do I honor the memory of a little boy? Well, I want the world to be a more compassionate place. I want the world to be a kinder place. I want people to come together in moments of sadness and pain and anguish. So that's what I try to do. But there's a million ways to do it through service, artistic expression, spiritual development, committing oneself to family. I mean, there's just so many ways we can honor our, uh, victims and channel our guilt and shame in a way that improves the world. And as we do that, of course, we regain a sense of belonging. We regain some trust in ourselves and some self respect. And so the trick is not to kind of keep looking back and going over and over and trying to punish ourselves until we decide we've had enough. Because that will never happen. We'll never reach enough. It means acknowledging what happened and moving forward anyway. But, uh, that takes time. It's not something you could just decide to do and implement it overnight.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Right. It has so much in common with the entire mindset of both gratitude and forgiveness as I sort of hear it. The ability to take that whole picture, the ability to have the dark and the light together, authentically, and not be running away anymore, but to sort of embrace the wholeness and say, how can I live a life according to the values that I still so much believe in? Even though I've had this moral injury where I did something that is so painful and so traumatic and so damaging and seems to go against my values, that can still be part of the picture as I move forward. I don't have to run from that. I can find a way to have the dark and light together, I can embrace them both, and I can try my best to have those values still guide me, and I don't have to live in silence and shame. I'm thinking though, uh, for that period of time, you didn't really talk about it much. You said both that some folks had advised you maybe not to talk about it. Was that kind of as a way of thinking that would be helpful? Hey, if you just don't think about it anymore, don't talk about it anymore, then you will heal. Was that kind of the mindset in part that you got from other people?

Dr. Maryann Gray: In part, yes. At, uh, the time of the accident, I was a young woman with big plans. And the adults who cared for me, my relatives, my therapist at the time, my professors, they didn't want to see my life get derailed any more than I wanted my life to be derailed. So the typical response, and this still happens today, very often, was, this is a terrible tragedy, it's so sad. You need to take some time to grieve and process it, but then you need to move on with your life. You need to just move on because this was just a terrible accident. And that sounded good to me. I was like, yeah, I want to move on with my life. I've got things to do. Unfortunately, I couldn't move on with my life. So all of what you just described as the darkness went underground. I held it all inside. And, um, that just extended my own healing and exacerbated the pain and despair that I lived with. I think people, we like to believe that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. And if, uh, something bad happens, well, maybe it was your fault, maybe you deserved it, maybe you're blameworthy. We kind of know better when we stop to think about it, but it's such a comforting belief and it actually helps us function in the world in many ways. M, so when good people do bad things, as I did, and as all of the folks in the high sense fellowship have done, that's very disturbing to communities and those who learn about it. It's terrifying. It shows us how little control we have over ourselves, over the world, that there is no protection against tragedy. And I think as a way of kind of fending off that fear, it's very easy to turn those who cause harm into the other. I'm different, this won't happen to me. And that of course, makes it much easier to blame them and to dismiss their pain and to summon condemnation rather than compassion.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm, that dynamic is so alive and well and unfortunately seems even made worse in the age of, um, information overload and social media. I see that dynamic all the time in parenting, that if something bad befell someone's child, it's easier to blame the parents because that gives us a sense of control. Well, it won't happen to my kid because I'm not going to make whatever mistake it was that they made. And you see such a lack of compassion, I think in part because people want to try to cling to some sort of certainty that if you do everything by the rulebook of parenting, your kid will be safe. And then something horrible happens and it's like, wait a second, that could happen to my kid too. It's so much easier to blame somebody for anything or even to blame ourselves. Well, if I hadn't done this, then this wouldn't have happened. So therefore, if I just keep not doing this for the rest of my life, this won't happen again. But like you said, terrible things can happen. Life can be unpredictable and uncertain and through nobody's fault, tragedy can occur. And I think that's so hard for any of us to reckon with. It's much easier to say, well, this person's bad, or this person was just too reckless or uh, this person was a bad parent. That's why this thing happened to their kid. That's not going to happen to my kid because I'm not going to do that. And in reality, we never can have that kind of certainty because the world can be so cruel. It really can be. It can have tragic things occur without reason, without warning, without our control. And I think you're absolutely right. And I see now sometimes the public just wants to glom on the blame and people get vilified and look at what this person did and now it's going viral, this terrible thing that they did. And that's why they got this awful consequence. It's much easier to sit there and judge and to turn off our compassion. Because with compassion comes vulnerability. With compassion says, uhoh, if I'm going to have compassion for this person, it means maybe they are deserving of compassion and actually we're a good person. And this hit them like a bolt of lightning out of the blue. And that means that tomorrow the same thing could happen to me. I know this is a big conversation sometimes with any kind of accident that happens to a child because there's always that element of if somebody somewhere had just done something a little bit differently, that kid would have been safe even when it's not really true.

Dr. Maryann Gray: That's right.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: So, uh, thinking about I know there's no typical experience for people that go through this. I mean, you've spoken so beautifully about some of the shame, some of the emotion in the immediate aftermath of this. Are there themes that tend to emerge in terms of how people handle it? Are there typical struggles that people go through? Would they typically call themselves depressed, but maybe think that they don't deserve treatment? Would they typically say that they've got PTSD? I know there's no one case, but what kind of themes, emotionally do you see in people struggling with this? Whether they've just had this happen or whether it was 45 years ago, and they're coming to reckon with it now.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Right. The first thing I want to say is that, as you know, and could probably speak to more clearly than I can, is that the way we respond to trauma is not some, um, random event. It's a function of who we were at the time of the trauma. So somebody who's a strong, resilient, positive person is going to have one reaction where somebody who has a history of trauma or has been struggling with depression or anxiety or physical health problems is going to react in a very different way. So who we are makes a difference. Also, the circumstances of the accident make a difference. Um, in my case, the involvement of a child made it even more tragic. Whether you knew, did you know your victim? Were you in a crash and a friend next to you was killed? Were you arrested and charged with an offense? Do you blame yourself? Was it your fault, or was it just really bad luck? These are just a few examples of factors, uh, that influence how we respond. But in the most general sense, what I've observed is that in the short term aftermath of these tragedies, people definitely show, if not full blown, acute or post traumatic stress. They show symptoms. One of the most common symptoms that I've noticed is what psychologists would call intrusive images or even flashbacks. So that every time your attention flags, your brain is flashing snapshots or memories of the trauma. It could be triggered by visual cues, sound cues, even smells, um, something you see on TV. So there's kind of constant reminders and, like, an internal slideshow of really horrific memories and images. Difficulty concentrating, understandably, is typical. Many people find it impossible to go right back to work or school or to function in the family. They need that kind of practical support to get functional again. Anxiety, fear, grief, guilt, shame. The whole stew of, uh, negative emotions that are painful are very much there. And we might cycle through them with strong feelings of despair alternating with times of kind of numbness or what we would call depersonalization. Feeling like we're outside ourselves looking in, like we're spaced out, we're not really there. Or that we just don't have access to our feelings. Those are some of the trauma symptoms that people report along with that the moral injury sets in right away. People are so guilty and ashamed and horrified. I mean, truly shocked by the capacity that we all have to do harm despite having benign intentions. And, um, that's just terrifying and painful. And we lose a sense of ourselves as good people. The hour before I ran over the little boy, whose name was Brian. So before I ran over Brian, I would have said, yeah, of course I'm a good person. I do this, I do that. Um, I follow the law, I'm a good student, I'm nice to my friends, I'm good to my family. And within, I would say, an hour, uh, by the time I started thinking again after that collision, I had lost a sense of myself as a good person. No, I'm bad. I'm destructive. There's something dark inside me. And I knew that accident wasn't my fault in a legal sense. Nobody suggested that it was, but I still thought there was something bad in me. Mhm, and that actually is quite common.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. And I imagine that makes it hard for people to even seek the traditional treatment for things like PTSD, because they think about themselves as being other. Right? Like, okay, PTSD for someone who was the victim of something, like an assault or something, or PTSD for somebody who's watched something horrifying happen, feels maybe different to people than PTSD. That comes from a situation where they unintentionally harm somebody. I imagine it cuts so many people off from getting help because they don't think necessarily that it would help or that they're worthy of help. They think of themselves as fundamentally different than the person who says, oh my goodness, I was assaulted and I need to get some help. This person instead might think, what is a therapist even going to say? Are they going to judge me? And I'll be completely honest, as a psychologist myself, I do wonder how some therapists might respond, being that this is such a secrecy shrouded issue, that I think we therapists certainly see it at times, but not nearly commonly enough, because a lot of people are struggling in silence. So there might be some people who try to talk about it in therapy, and it's not maybe the most helpful or compassionate response, and I don't want people to shy away from that by any stretch. But you even talked about how at the time, your therapist also was really, really invested in making sure that your life didn't get derailed, so to speak, in terms of, oh, what if this cuts into all these big plans? But it kind of had the paradoxical effect because it meant that you weren't able to really open yourself up to start healing at that time.

Dr. Maryann Gray: That's, uh, exactly right. And I think many therapists are both trained and kind of temperamentally inclined to want people to feel better. And that means when they bring in their guilt and shame, their motivation is. To reduce or relieve that guilt and shame. And oftentimes what happens is then the person just feels like, oh, uh, they don't get it. They feel somehow like they're not being seen or heard and that their pain is somehow being dismissed or that it's wrong. What's more useful is to try to be with someone in their guilt and shame and then invite them to begin to think about, what does this mean? What does this mean about my values and beliefs, as you said, and what am I going to do about it going forward? Mhm in order to get there, the worst of the trauma and moral injury symptoms have to be relieved. If someone is having constant flashbacks or drinking to dull the pain or unable to function at work, obviously, that has to be dealt with. But as we regain our ability to think and reflect, we can really spend some time acknowledging the seriousness of the harm that was done. Taking responsibility, which doesn't mean heaping blame all over ourselves if we did something wrong, if someone made a mistake or was negligent, that needs to be acknowledged and there needs to be accountability. That's critically important. Yes, it was an accident. Yes, you did not intend harm, but look what happened. And we need to deal with that. We need to acknowledge that and accept that to the best of our ability. But can we do that with compassion for ourselves? And can we allow ourselves to accept compassion from others? And that's so hard to do. Kristen Neff, as you probably know, writes a lot about self compassion. And I think her work is wonderful. Because self compassion doesn't mean looking in the mirror and giving ourselves affirmation. It means acknowledging our human frailties and our shortcomings and accepting ourselves anyway and turning off that voice inside us that says, you're a screw up, you're a bad person, you deserve all the suffering you feel. You would never say that to a friend. But we say to ourselves all the time, so can we turn that voice off and replace it with something still honest and direct but kinder?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yes, I love the way that you speak of that because once again, it's about being authentic. It's about engaging with the reality of the situation. It's not sugar coding it, it's not the person who says, oh well, legally it wasn't your fault, so just move on, right? It's acknowledging that you took a life. Or for people where there was negligence. I imagine a lot of folks that are seeking support from the Hyacinth Fellowship, it's not as cut and dry. It's like, okay, well, I was really tired that day and that did make me more prone to giving the wrong medicine to someone I was taking care of, or whatever it might be. It's not this cut and dried of, oh, you get absolution because it wasn't your legal fault. It's more actually engaging with the reality of I deserve love anyway, and I can try to move forward in life and put goodness into the world anyway. And also, I made a mistake that caused harm because I think some people listening and certainly some folks that I imagine that are out there might be thinking, well, it's kind of a zero sum game. Let's save all of our compassion for the victims of these tragedies. We don't have enough to go around for the people who were the ones who accidentally killed someone. Almost again, like, it's this zero sum game that if we give compassion to the people who caused the accident, then we're not going to have enough for the victims and that we should be focusing on the victims. So how would you respond to folks who say, I'm going to reserve my sympathy for the family of the victims and these other folks who are affected in these profound ways? That's just their burden to bear and that's just the way it has to be?

Dr. Maryann Gray: I think that's a pretty common reaction for friends and family of the victim. What I personally believe and others in the Hyacinth fellowship may have a very different idea about this, but what I personally believe is they're grieving, they're stunned. Whatever gets, um, them through is fine with me. If they want to hate the person who unintentionally killed their loved one, that's okay. They're just trying to get by. And so I give them a pass, of course, drawing the line at, ah, retaliation and extrajudicial forms of revenge and retaliation. There's often civil lawsuits that certainly they're right. So my heart goes out to them. And they are victims in a way that the caddies, those who caused the harm are not. I like to emphasize that we are not victims, and I am not trying to suggest that we are victims. What I am suggesting is that these accidents don't have to define us. They don't say something about who we are in our essence because we are so much more than the worst mistake we ever made or the worst thing that ever happened. We're more than that. We have love in our hearts, we have caring, we have kindness, we have dreams and aspirations. And I believe that we have enough compassion, that the world has enough compassion that we could spare some for everybody who suffers as a result of, uh, these accidents. And I hope as people acknowledge that good people can make terrible mistakes or that terrible things can happen, and that we do have limits to our personal control, that they'll find that compassion because it won't be as easy to push people away or say, oh, they're different.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, uh, that's beautiful, really. And you certainly practice what you preach with the compassion. I love how you're able to have empathy for the fact that some people's reaction is going to be to not forgive or to hate. And that's part of their process. Uh, that ultimately does not have any part of defining your process. Right? I mean, you really practice what you preach in terms of the compassion, because I can imagine and you kind of alluded to this. I can imagine that even when you spoke out years later, you were on the receiving. End of, uh, some, ugliness, perhaps some anytime there's a trial or all the sort of public vilification that I was talking about in terms of parenting and horrible accidents that happen. Social media alone is just such, um, kind of the worst parts of the town square in some m ways. You could certainly argue it's got some of the best parts here and there too. But those worst parts of the piling on and the shaming people and I love that you can have compassion in that direction too, that some people's process might include saying, hey, I'm not going to even think about having any compassion because I've been so harmed by this. Right?

Dr. Maryann Gray: Yeah. Right. People ask me in the participants in the Hyacinth Fellowship ask me frequently about contacting the victim. Um, lawyers will almost always advise against it, but I think there's a very natural desire to apologize and to have a moment of kind of human connection. Mhm what I advise is that if they are hoping for forgiveness, kindness, some kind of acknowledgment that it's understood this was not intended. If they are hoping for anything in particular from the victim's family, don't do it because, uh, those grieving family members do not owe us anything. And my personal feeling is that we should not even be asking for it. But when we can go to them without any expectation, hope, dream or need really for a response and say, your loved one lives in my heart as I know he or she does in yours, then I think that could be very beautiful and healing. Um, but they have a right to their feelings and that should be respected.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm so important for people to hear because there's different motivations for doing things and I think it's so important to have all of the different perspectives in mind when somebody is sort of proceeding. If they're really looking for some sort of absolution, they're going to come up empty and they might come up doing more harm depending on how it's framed.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Right?

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah. Uh, what can we be doing more of in the public conversation? How can we change this silence? Obviously, you're doing a ton and the very existence of the highest and fellowship is a huge step in that direction. And I have no doubt that there's someone listening right now who is in this scenario and who did not know that such support was available. What do you think we could do differently even in terms of how we talk about this or not talk about this in a culture? How can we bring more light into this darkness if tens of thousands of people in the United States every year are experiencing this kind of complicated trauma and grief. What do we do as a society to be better, more compassionate, supports, more insightful and aware supporters of them?

Dr. Maryann Gray: Thank you for asking that. First of all, if anybody listening is themselves, someone who's caused accidental harm or know someone who's done so, please visit our website at uh hyacinthfellowship.org. You could also send an email to hyacinthfellowship@gmail.com and we will respond. Our website is packed with information. There's an opportunity to sign up for our mailing list and also to comment, share your story. So we encourage people to visit the website. If you're interested in the experience, visit the website because you'll have insight from the personal stories about what it's like beyond that. When these terrible tragedies occur in our neighborhoods, in our workplaces, in the various communities that we're part of, first, let's refrain from piling on. Let's check ourselves before we rush to blame and condemn. And then when we hear others blaming and condemning, perhaps we could find a gentle way to say, I bet that person is really suffering. I bet they're anguished. Mhm there but for the grace of God go I have compassion for that person. Even as I hold them responsible and think that they made a terrible mistake or were terribly negligent, I still could feel compassion. So to model that complex mixture of accountability and compassion, I think is helpful. And finally, to the extent people are comfortable doing this, even the smallest gesture can mean so much to a person in this situation. Most people who unintentionally harm someone are terrified of being ostracized. Often they are ostracized, and it's very painful. And so even stopping at the grocery store to say, how are you doing? Can be incredibly healing. A note, a card, anything like that, um, can, uh, have an outsized impact beyond what it seems like it might. And finally, for people who want to support more actively someone who's caused unintentional harm, we provide information on the website about the kinds of support people need. Of course, we all need a hug and someone that we could talk to and cry with, who won't judge us or tell us what to do, or tell us we shouldn't feel that way, but m also just practical help. Help picking up the kids, help with, errands, help getting back in the car and driving again. Perhaps those kinds of practical support can be hard to ask for, but tremendously helpful and information support. Here's a website for you. Here's how you could find a therapist. Here's a referral to a therapist I trust. That kind of information can be very, very useful.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm yeah, really, just showing up, right? I think so many times perfect. Even just in grief, even if it's just a more typical case of grief, people are afraid of not knowing what to say, so they disappear. And really, it's the disappearing that's the wrong thing to do or say. And I imagine in this scenario, it's even more likely that people will start avoiding the person, not only because of all the complicated moral quandaries, but also because they're even more concerned that there's no right thing to say. But there doesn't have to be a right thing per se to say. It can be about showing up. It can be about the lasagna brigade that says, here's some dinner. And like I always emphasize to people really making specific suggestions rather than, oh, let me know if there's anything I can do to help, but saying, hey, can I bring over some Mexican food for your family on Friday? Or saying, hey, can I drive you to that doctor's appointment? And being specific so that the ball doesn't have to be in their court to reach out and say, I need help. Because I imagine with Caddies, it's even more I don't want to reach out for help because maybe I'm struggling with the fact that I'm not deserving of help.

Dr. Maryann Gray: That's exactly right. That's exactly right. So friends and family and neighbors pull away because they're not sure what to say or how to act. And they may have their own mixed feelings, and they may have their own secondary trauma. Mhm. But at the same time, the individual in the grip of moral injury is isolating him or herself. And all of that just extends despair. Yeah.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: But there is light and there is hope, as you are so beautifully spreading in the world. In fact, the Hyacinth Fellowship, the name is pretty meaningful. Do you want to tell folks where that came from? Because it's a recent name change?

Dr. Maryann Gray: Yeah. Yes. We used to be called accidental impacts, and that name had the benefit of making it clear what we were about. But the word accident has become problematic in our society. There are safety advocates, policymakers, even journalists who feel that that word accident conveys that no one is to blame or nothing could have been done to prevent what happened. And that's just never true. There's always some preventive measure, whether it's road design or lower speed limit, better lighting, crosswalks, whatever. It doesn't have to be a person's fault, although it could be. And so the word accident, I think 35 states no longer will use that word in their statistics and reports. When it comes to traffic, they talk about collisions or crashes, um, and they use other words in other settings. So we did not want to appear to be apologists. We did not want to suggest that nothing could have been done to prevent what happened or that no one was to blame. So we made the difficult decision to change our name. Um, the Hyacinth Fellowship is a nod to the beautiful myth of Apollo and Hyacinthus. Apollo, um, was one of the most charismatic and powerful Greek gods. He was an amazing athlete. He was an artist, he was a lover. He was just a charmed god. And he had a best friend and probably lover named, uh, Hyacinthus, who was immortal. He was a prince and they spent all their time together. They really loved each other. And one day, while they were playing in the fields, apollo's discus veered off course and hit Hyacinthus in the head. So Apollo ran to him and he tried to save him. But Hyacinthus was immortal and Apollo could not bring him back to life. So he held Hyacinthus as he died and then created a beautiful flower so that we will always remember him and honor the memory of that friendship and that prince and that, uh, beautiful man. So we love that name because it reminds us that from horrible tragedy we can create something of beauty. We can honor our victims in the way we choose to live going forward.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Mhm, and it all comes full circle because that's exactly what you have done in such a monumental way. By connecting other people, by giving them a sense of belonging, by giving them a sense of hope and light, that there is life ahead for them and that they don't have to run and they don't have to close off, that they can live authentically and that they can put beauty back into the world themselves. It's also so interesting how even in Greek mythology, this issue was obviously first and foremost that theme was so strong that obviously Apollo's pain was so intense and unique in that way that this was something that his discus had caused because he threw it. And even back then, that was a unique kind of struggle and challenge. And so I'm so glad that we've been able to shed some light on this today because I just don't think it's talked about enough. And there's some upcoming research being done right, because that's another thing, even in the field of research within psychology, there's not much that's been traditionally done right.

Dr. Maryann Gray: We partnered with some psychology faculty at, uh, the University of Wyoming who specialize in trauma and moral injury and conducted a survey of uh, our community. We have about 150 responses, and a report of those results is being reviewed by a professional journal right now. We hope to hear something momentarily, and we also hope to follow up with a population survey that will help us more precisely understand just how many people are living with the pain of having caused unintentional harm.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Yeah, it's remarkable there's such hope here today. Such pain, but such hope too. And I thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, because I know that there are people out there that have been living in this secrecy and this shame and this shroud of silence. And you've done so much for them by being willing to speak not only about the highest and fellowship, but also being able to be vulnerable about your own experience. So I appreciate it so much mary Ann.

Dr. Maryann Gray: Thank you for your interest. I appreciate that.

Dr. Andrea Bonior: Thank you.

Thanks for joining me today. Once again, I'm Dr. Andrea Bonior, and this has been Baggage Check, with new episodes every Tuesday and Friday. Join us on Instagram @baggagecheckpodcast. Give us your take and opinions on topics and guests. And you know you've got that friend who listens to, like, 17 podcasts. We'd love it if you told them where to find us. Our original music is by Jordan Cooper, cover art by Daniel Merity and my studio security? It's Buster the dog. Until next time, take good care.

Show artwork for Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice

About the Podcast

Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice
with Dr. Andrea Bonior
We've all got baggage. But what do we choose to do with it?
Every other Friday, licensed clinical psychologist, best-selling author and popular psychology professor Dr. Andrea Bonior takes your mental health questions, and makes you part of the conversation. Join her and other voices as they translate research into real life, and talk about relationships, emotions, health, psychological disorders, stress, finding meaning, work, and occasionally-- just occasionally-- the most obscure dance crazes of 1997.
All are welcome, and nothing is off limits. With science, compassion, and humor, she's here to help.

About your host

Profile picture for Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist, speaker, and the best-selling author of “Detox Your Thoughts." She was the longtime mental health advice columnist for The Washington Post, and appears regularly in national media, including CNN and NPR, with several popular courses on the LinkedIn Learning platform. Dr. Bonior’s blog for Psychology Today has been read more than 25 million times. She serves on the faculty of Georgetown University, where she recently won the national Excellence in Teaching award, given by the American Psychological Association.