The unexpected death of a loved one is a shocking and distressing experience which gives the bereaved person intense and painful emotions that may include shock, numbness, denial, anger and disbelief. The important thing to remember is that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel. Everyone is different and people cope with loss in their own different ways. People vary greatly in how they are affected by such bereavements and also in how soon or how late things normalise for them.
When a death is unexpected, there may be considerable trauma alongside the usual sense of loss reactions you experience. Some of these reactions are outlined below. This list is not exhaustive and you may experience responses not included.
- Disbelief / numbness
- Anger / irritability
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep disturbance
- Intense sadness
- Inability to concentrate
- Feelings of purposelessness
- Hyper-vigilance – scanning for sightings / clues of the deceased
- Avoiding reminders of the deceased
- Feeling panicky
Experiencing any of the above reactions is a perfectly normal and understandable response to such a shocking event as a sudden death. You may well find that you are having difficulties in concentrating on day to day tasks, so take extra care of yourself when doing potentially hazardous activities, e.g. driving. Some people experience difficulties in their normal mental functioning or find they have problems remembering things. Sometimes people have moments where they feel frightened with their emotions becoming out of control. Try not to be too worried if such feelings plague you as these are all common reactions. Over time this will change as you begin to adapt to the loss and the symptoms associated with it will subside. Generally they begin to gradually reduce in intensity after a couple of weeks and the usual grieving process takes place.
What can I do to help myself ?
In the aftermath of an unexpected death, it will take sometime for everything to normalise. Instead of spending too much time alone, try to spend time with family and friends. Sharing your memories of the deceased with other people who have been bereaved can be very helpful. Here are some other suggestions that might help:
- Take regular exercise
- Make sure you get enough rest
- Try and keep to a healthy diet
- Establish a routine
- Avoid being alone too much
- Talk to people you trust
If you feel overwhelmed by your distress or if it continues to affect you over an extended period of time, it is important to seek appropriate help. Counsellors are very experienced in providing support to people in these difficult circumstances. You may also talk to your doctor or your spiritual guide or another person you know and trust. Some of the best support available is from those closest to you: your family, friends and colleagues.
Hope the above helps you to cope with the sudden demise of a loved one by helping you understand your feelings and how you can access social support through such difficult times.
Image © Aparna Chatterjee 2010