How to Cope with Sudden Death

Are you completely overwhelmed with the unexpected death of a loved one? Frozen in time? Numb? Not knowing where to turn? All of this and more occurs every day and it can only be described with one word: Normal. But whether normal or not, its effect is chilling, something that no one who has never had the experience, can fathom.

I’ve made that trip with my wife, so I speak from having a modicum of experience with it. However, I don’t pretend to know what anyone else might feel. Every grief is different because every relationship is one of a kind.

In my case, my wife and I found our four-month old daughter dead in her crib. I gave her mouth to mouth, and my wife called the paramedics who rushed her to the hospital. All to no avail.

So what can you do? Or what might you do to help someone else who is reeling from the sudden death of a loved one?

1. Do what comes naturally. For us it was to cry, as we walked home, which was a long way from the hospital emergency room. We declined a ride because we needed to be by ourselves. Expression of whatever you have inside is critical. In this instance, we were fortunate to have each other to cry with.

2. Search for the privacy you need. We were in an unfamiliar city having made a temporary move earlier in the summer. In some strange way, our privacy was to be on the sidewalk, the two of us, with all the buzzing traffic and hurrying people going by. They had no idea what was going on in our hearts and minds. You may have to be away from everyone or only with one special person.

3. Be with those you trust most, who will allow you to be who you are at that time, without directions. In will help you immensely if you can have at least one person to direct all that you are feelings toward. Be sure to talk about your anger, which is not uncommon. You may have to hug or hold on to someone as though it is your only hope.

4. If the primary mourner is alone when he/she receives the news, and you know what has happened as well, go to that person immediately. If he/she wants to be alone, you will be told so. More likely, your presence by itself will be a thread of safety for the person.

5. Find out all you can about how the death occurred. It will help you understand and process the events leading up to the death. It may mean you or someone close to you will have to contact the physician or nurse or whoever else was on the scene.

6. If possible, view the body. If there was facial disfigurement, have the loved one’s face covered and at least look at the hands or arms. You may need to be alone with the body. Ask for that time, and tell others to let you do and say what you are feeling. If you are providing support for someone, you may want to ask the person if they would like to be with the loved one in this way, especially if there is to be a closed casket.

7. You may have to put your grief on hold if you are the only person who is expected to make all of the arrangements for services and burial. The same may be true if you are responsible for children who were very close to the deceased. And it is okay to do so.

8. On the other hand, your shock and disbelief at this tragic event may last longer than is normally expected. Again, stay around those you trust. You may then have to ask others to help with arrangements and legal matters, if you do not feel confident in handling them at this time. This is common and fully acceptable.

9. Because it was a sudden death, there was no time to say goodbye. However, you can still do so when you are ready. Find a quiet place in your home or other special place that is private. Place a photo of your loved one in a chair opposite you and say whatever is in your heart. Many people have found solace and comfort in this goodbye.

To summarize, because each grief is one of a kind, the response to sudden death is unpredictable. Be especially willing to lean on others for help and expect the usual reactions to the death of a loved one to lengthen and persist for a longer period of time.

Throughout the process do not keep your pain and sorrow within. Keep releasing those feelings and talking to those who realize your long-term need for good listeners. And I emphasize long-term. Be sure to deal with guilt and anger and not let it build and cause you to become stuck in your grief.

When your grief seems to persist and you feel you are not making any headway, look to join a support group. There are also many grief therapists who deal with sudden deaths in their practices that can help you regain your balance. Both of these resources are proven aids to those dealing with sudden deaths. Most important, be open to the search for new ways to see the world, the terrible death of your loved one, and to find what others have done to assuage the pain.

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