How to Cope With the Sudden Death of a Loved One

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Although we all know that death is inevitable, it still doesn’t stop the mourning that follows the dying of a loved one. Impending death from a lingering illness and death that comes suddenly may cause the same level of grief for the people left behind. But the difference lies in how they cope with the loss.

When a person dies unexpectedly, it takes the family and friends by surprise. Sudden and unanticipated death may be caused by an accident, suicide, accidental shooting or murder, and certain medical conditions. Unlike the dying of someone who has been sick for a long time, the shock and bewilderment of people left behind in a sudden death are so acute and intense that the coping capacity is greatly impaired. The overwhelming grief of the parent or life partner can affect them to such a great extent that functioning is significantly diminished.

Bereaved survivors are plagued by feelings of despair, numbness, anger, guilt for still being alive and often an immeasurable sense of yearning that strikes any time. These feelings persist longer and are more intense than the emotions that assail the normal grieving person. There were no goodbyes and no more chance to do or say anything you would have wanted to, to the dead one. In the dual process model of coping with grief, the individual swings between loss-oriented responses and restoration activities to learn how to accept the reality and live life without the beloved. The back and forth seesaw creates a balance that enables the grieving person to cope with the sudden death of a loved one, reenter the daily normalcy of living grounded in reality.

It helps to know what to do in dealing with the unexpected death of a loved one, for one’s self and for learning how to help others who may go through it.


Allow yourself to grieve to be able to cope with sudden death.

  • Get psychotherapy if you feel it’s necessary and will help.
  • Seek out a support group where you can share experiences and hear about other people’s own agony.
  • If you belong to a religious community, perform the rituals and traditions of your faith and seek spiritual guidance from your church.
  • Maintain communication with your close friends whose shoulders you can cry on when the going gets rough.

Engage in restoration activities.

Although you are still in prolonged grief, keep in mind that life has to go on even in the absence of your dear one. Restoration activities give you a reality check and having to focus on day to day activities keep you from brooding over your tragic loss.

  • Get physical. Go to the gym regularly or take 30-minute long walks frequently. Aside from the benefits on your body’s health, physical activities release brain chemicals that help combat the depression and anxiety that come with grief.
  • Learn new skills. Budgeting finances, cooking, minor house repairs are useful skills to have, especially if you were dependent on your partner for them. The internet has many free courses, or enroll in a community class and make new acquaintances on the side.
  • Take care of your physical and mental well-being. Get enough sleep and eat healthy. Don’t tire yourself out and avoid turning to alcohol and drugs to get relief.
  • Don’t isolate yourself totally. Join social activities to keep your mind off your loss, even if only temporarily.

The sudden demise of a loved one can turn your world upside down, and there’s no denying that that someone is gone forever. But it can also make you aware of what’s important in life and not get lost in the trivialities.

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