Sudden Death

— Skylight Trust

Coping with Grief after a sudden death​

A sudden death brings particular feelings and issues. It can leave you shocked, devastated, and feeling vulnerable.

The issues and specific feelings that people grieving a sudden death most commonly confront are:

  • shock. The most overwhelming and common reaction to a sudden death is shock and uncertainty. This results in feeling disconnected to your feelings or to other people; it can seem as if you are living in a dream. It can also affect you physically
  • the initial news and stages of grief are often characterised by disbelief. This can be accompanied by feelings of numbness or a belief that the person is still present
  • the unexpected nature of the death can leave you wondering if the event has actually occurred or the significance has not registered or yet been acknowledged
  • not only are you subject to the usual grief feelings, you have also been deprived of the opportunity to prepare for the death. You were not able to gradually understand, cope or adjust to the possibility of the death or say goodbye in a personally, satisfying way
  • it is common to be distressed by feelings of unfinished business and missed opportunities, and regrets for things not done or said to the person who has died
  • the survivors may encounter tremendous feelings of guilt, believing and wishing there was something they could have done to prevent the death
  • strong feelings of helplessness may be manifested in displays of anger, agitation, or immobilisation.

Because of the sudden nature of the death, you may have a delayed grief reaction resulting from the difficulty of being able to initially comprehend the events or meaning of the death.

Coping tips for dealing with a sudden death:

  • consider sharing your thoughts and feelings with others who have experienced a similar loss
  • pay close attention to, and get help for, any changes in physical and emotional health as they may be related to the loss
  • talk to professionals, family, and friends to help gain perspective about the death and decrease feelings of guilt
  • become educated about the cause of death
  • accept rather than deny your feelings, even unpleasant ones such as anger
  • be active in making choices about engaging in activities and rituals.

Resources Available at Skylight

Skylight is here to help you through difficult times. We can assist you in a variety of ways with information appropriate for your situation. You are welcome to visit us and receive free information and a support pack from our resource centre and borrow books from the specialist library. We also facilitate Professional Development training and offer Counselling support services for children, young people, family/whānau and individuals who are experiencing tough times.

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