Coping with grief after a sudden death

Losing a loved one is never easy, but it can be especially hard to deal with if the death was unexpected. The coping process often looks a little different after a sudden death.

When you lose a loved one, you may feel as though you’ve lost part of yourself. It can be hard to imagine your life without them, especially if the death is unexpected. You haven’t had time to prepare yourself; you might not have even gotten to say goodbye. Because of the suddenness of the changes, coping with the loss of a loved one due to an unexpected death is going to look different than if they had been ill for a while.

Coping with a sudden death

Kate Weiner, LISW at North Iowa Therapy Associates in Mason City, Iowa, said that coping with an unexpected death can often look different than coping with the loss of a loved one who was suffering from a long-term illness. Weiner explained that this difference is a result of the changes being rushed.
“If someone told you to change a behavior you didn’t want to change for an unknown reason, you would fight that change. When a loved one suddenly dies, a person is forced to change quickly and without warning …. Everything becomes different: our emotions, our lives, our relationships,” she said.
The quick change to your way of life often comes as a shock to your system and might delay your acceptance of the loss. Some people have a hard time coming to terms with unexpected deaths, and it isn’t until the day of the funeral that they realize their loved one is truly gone. Other individuals may feel denial, anger, or guilt. These feelings are normal, and they are part of the five stages of grief.

Checklist: What to do when someone dies

After an unexpected death, you may find yourself being afraid of things that you previously had not feared. Weiner said this fear is normal, and it may be one of the hardest emotions to cope with after an unexpected loss. For example, you may be afraid of what life will be like without your loved one, or you may begin to fear your own mortality. The fears will likely lessen over time, but you should allow yourself to talk with someone about them.

Additional tips

After a sudden death, you may find yourself wanting to take the time to consider what is important in your life. This action allows you to count your blessings and evaluate who and what has made you who you are. Many people also consider joining grief support groups or talking with friends and family. Others start grief journaling in order to cope with their thoughts and emotions. 

Grief books and blogs for coping with loss

“It is important to remember that grief is a normal reaction for someone who experiences an unexpected loss, and everyone grieves differently,” said Weiner.
She says there is no right or wrong way to grieve; it is okay to cry or not cry, to be angry or not be angry, to look sad or not look sad. Some moments will probably be harder than others.
“Human beings are resilient, and a person becomes more effective at managing the pain little by little every day,” Weiner said.
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Photo credit: iStock

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