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Death is never easy, but for families and friends affected by a sudden death of a loved one, grief is especially traumatic. Deaths caused by accidents, homicide and suicide typically seem premature, unjust, and wrong. Completely wrong.
It’s common to have obsessive thoughts and feelings about what the death must have been like for the person who died, and what might have been done to prevent it.
Strong feelings of anger and regret are also common. Understanding and expressing these feelings helps survivors, over time and with the support of others, come to reconcile their loss.
Sudden, unexpected death is just that: death came without warning. It may happen in a few seconds or minutes, such as in an accident or from a heart attack, or a random, seemingly senseless act of violence.
Sudden unexpected deaths also happen when the person is not expected to die in a certain way or place. He or she may not even be expected to die at all.
Some people, not knowing the person was ill, may think of their death as sudden and unexpected. A person who was expected to take many months to die may also die a death that is seen as sudden. They may be expected to get worse slowly but then die in a short period of time. Death may also seem sudden when people are expecting a different outcome. The person may die in a few weeks when they were expected to live for months or even years.
The sudden loss and death of a person may cause shock and confusion at first. They may have more need to go over and over the events around the death. They may think that mistakes were made, and feel guilty or angry.
The police, courts, media, and insurance companies may get involved with the death. People may feel they need to help resolve the practical issues involved in the situation, instead of facing their grief, and moving through it.
The following may be some of a survivor's feelings or actions after the sudden unexpected death of a loved one:
Grief is a cycling process, and all of these symptoms may wax and wane, come and go, with the “seasons” of grieving.
The following may help you cope with the sudden unexpected death of a loved one:
Here's the truth of things: if your loved one died from a sudden death, you have been brought face-to-face with the realization that tomorrow is promised to no one. This awareness can help you keep in mind what is important in life, so you don’t get lost in trivial matters and lose sight of those things that are most important to you.
It is an ironic but one consequence of sudden death is that it can make you appreciate life more than you ever would have if you had not undergone such a traumatic experience.
Now we know that no one in their right mind would seek out such a loss in order to teach themselves a lasting life lesson, but it does let you pull something meaningful out of such a tragedy.
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It's hard to know what to say when someone experiences loss. Our free weekly newsletter provides insights, quotes and messages on how to help during the first year.