Coping with Sudden Loss

The sudden, unexpected loss of a friend or loved one can be one of the most difficult things to cope with. While most losses are devastating, a sudden loss can leave us feeling uncertain, anxious, and vulnerable about life and the future. Because there is no forewarning, sudden loss can cause the entire grief response to be more intense. Most people greatly struggle with sudden loss because there is no opportunity say good-bye to the individual who died, and there is no opportunity to prepare for the loss. Common feelings surrounding sudden loss include; fear and anxiety, anger, shock, numbness, despair and hopelessness, sadness, and feelings of intense depression. It is important that the grieving person do the best they can to take care of themselves following the sudden loss of a loved one. An important part of the grieving process is to find effective ways of coping, such as:

Realize that everyone grieves differently.
There is no textbook way of grieving. Everyone goes through a different experience, and in a different time frame. Because it is unexpected in nature, with no time to prepare, sudden loss can often cause the grief response to be more intense. Try to be gentle with yourself as you come to terms with the loss. Recognize that your emotions will most likely change very quickly, and try not to place limitations on what you think you “should be” feeling. You will most likely experience a full range of emotions. No feelings are “wrong”. Approach your grief by taking one day at a time, one hour at a time, without trying to put a time limit on it.

Realize that you are dealing with an event that is beyond your control, and try to re-establish some sense of normalcy when everything feels so out of control.
Try to take care of yourself the best you can. As difficult as it can be, try to maintain as normal of a routine as possible. Having a routine can help you feel more in control when, following such a sudden loss, life seems so chaotic and uncertain. Try to exercise or get some form of physical activity to help ease tension and stress. Try to get plenty of rest, even when it is difficult to sleep. Keep lists and write notes to help with feeling overwhelmed. Try to eat a balanced diet, and avoid numbing pain with alcohol or drugs.

Avoid asking “Why”…

A common reaction to a sudden loss is to try and understand why it happened. Not only is this destructive to your emotional health, it is counterproductive to the grieving process. Asking “why” can keep an individual stuck in their pain, and usually does not result in any answers. Understand that the need to ask “why” is a result of trying to find meaning and understand the intense feelings that are a result of the loss. Instead of asking “why”, ask yourself what you need in order to begin putting your life back together and go on living a purposeful, meaningful life. Instead of asking “why”, ask yourself what feelings are underneath that question. Are you feeling angry? Distressed? Full of sadness and despair? Betrayed? Disappointed? Alone? Afraid? Once you figure out what you are feeling, ask yourself what you need as a result of each feeling. Unanswered questions are a part of life. Knowing “why” will not ease your pain, no matter how much it seems like it might.


Avoid “Could…”, “Should”…, “Would”…, and “What if”…

Survivor guilt is common when losing a loved one suddenly. Many times, it is difficult not to think about all of the things we could have done differently. Sometimes, we take this even further, by assuming the things we “could”, “should”, or “would” have done that we think might have prevented the person from dying. You can’t control the past, and taking responsibility does not bring the person back, it only makes you feel guilty for something you had no control over. It also delays the grieving process, which is about moving forward and healing, not looking at the past and what you have no control over.

Reach out to your support system and resources for help.
Don’t be ashamed or afraid to reach out to your support system, whether it’s for a listening ear, help with the changes and added responsibilities, or whatever is needed. Surround yourself with those who are caring, compassionate, and understanding to your loss. It’s important to process your grief by talking through and understanding your feelings, whether it’s with friends, family, clergy, or through professional counseling. Try not to isolate yourself during such a difficult time. Isolation can lead to depression, and is destructive to the grieving process. There are many good books on sudden loss and the grieving process. Be open to reading about what you are experiencing. If you are uncertain about what books to read, contact a professional counselor or clergy for resources. For those of you reading this for someone who has experienced a sudden loss, realize how important of a role you play in helping your loved one through this difficult time. Be persistent in offering to help. Realize that the individual experiencing the loss could be feeling so overwhelmed, they might not know what they initially need.

Above all, remember that your experience is unique. I once read that the greatest loss is the one that the grieving person is suffering. This is very true!! Remember that sudden loss is it’s own unique experience. It takes time and work to get through, but each day is a step closer towards healing. If you need further information on grief counseling, or if you need to talk with a therapist about a sudden loss you have experienced, please call us! Imagine Hope Counseling group provides grief counseling, marriage counseling, family counseling, individual counseling to Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Zionsville, Noblesville, Westfield, and surrounding areas.