How to Understand Grief After the Sudden Death of a Loved One

It often feels that you can never be prepared to lose a loved one suddenly. Indeed, when someone passes away unexpectedly, the level of shock you feel is like nothing else.

Your world has collapsed beneath you; your legs have given way. You’ve lost someone you thought would be there forever.

While all deaths are a loss, you may experience a difference between the passing of someone who has been ill for a long time and the sudden passing of a loved one.

No Chance to Say Goodbye

When you lose someone suddenly, you’re usually deprived of the chance to say goodbye to them. You don’t have months to spend with them during an extended illness where you can reminisce and tell them how much you love them. You may struggle when feeling a lack of closure and regret.

Unanswered Questions

Sudden deaths often bring many questions with them. Perhaps homicide, suicide, or an accident caused your loved one’s passing. Maybe an undiagnosed health condition was the cause. Whatever it is, you will likely never have answers to all of your questions.

You may even find yourself feeling guilty for the fact that you’re still alive. You may beat yourself up for missing signs or not insisting they get regular check-ups. But it would help if you remembered that it’s not your fault.

Physical and Emotional Symptoms

Grief is a full-body experience. You may feel exhausted and worn out from crying. Maybe you have headaches. Perhaps you need more sleep or have difficulty sleeping. The chances are that you’ll have no appetite.

You feel like your sense of equilibrium is gone. It’s hard for you to concentrate for very long. Everyday tasks seem frivolous.

It’s crucial to reach out to friends and family during this time. They need to encourage you to eat and be a reassuring presence for you. Even if you don’t usually feel comfortable asking for help, this is the time to do it.

The Stages of Grief

Some people find it helpful to review the classic stages of grief. Some therapists call them the five stages; others adapt them to seven stages. But the heart of the grief stages is the same: denial (shock), anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance.

These stages are not linear, and you will cycle through them in no particular order. One day you may feel at peace, but the next, you’re back to the great sense of shock and denial. You might not even experience all of them, and it’s likely that you’ll undoubtedly feel things that don’t fit anywhere into these categories. But they can be a helpful framework.

Finding Meaning

Some have suggested another, final stage of grief: creating meaning after a loss. When you create meaning after a loss, you’ve found a way to honor your memory of the loved one. You can recognize the growth that you, as an individual, have found while healing from grief. You remember them from a place of love and thanksgiving.

Ultimately, though, perhaps there is truly no way actually to understand your grief. Grief is an individual experience, even when it is shared. Grief can feel like you’re falling down an endless tunnel in the darkness. You don’t know when you’ll land on your feet. But remember that your feelings and reactions are normal. You are not going crazy, even if you may feel like it.

Reaching out for professional help in the aftermath of the sudden death of a loved one is crucial. Grief is normal, but sometimes it leads you down a road that can be difficult to navigate by yourself.

The therapists at New Perspective Counseling have many years of experience walking alongside grieving individuals and families. It is possible to find your way back. Please call our office today to find out more about how we can work together.

Learn more about Grief Counseling!

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