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How to cope with the trauma of the sudden death of a loved one.

1 -How should we first approach this topic?

I recently lost a precious dear friend and neighbor. Processing the grief of his unexpected death has not been an easy thing. If you too have recently lost a loved one, let me express my condolences. You may be experiencing a range of emotions. The Bible teaches us that death was never something we were supposed to experience. At times, the pain may be so deep that no words can truly express the feelings. I once heard someone express it this way, “it’s like losing an arm or a leg” there’s so much you have to adjust, learn, navigate without it. Therefore, understand that your emotions are completely valid.

2 -What are some common feelings that those who are grieving may experience?

Among the range of emotions one may experience, here are the most similar feelings that people grieving commonly confront:

· Regret; feeling as though you had missed opportunities to say or do things

· Disbelief; feelings of numbness or a belief that there has been a mistake

· Helplessness; lack of knowing what to do to be effective during this painful time

· Guilt; believing or wishing you could have done something to prevent the death

· Anger; being angry at the situation or with the person for no longer being present

· Shock; feeling disconnected to your feelings or to other people

· Sadness; frequent crying

Grieving individuals may also be impacted physically:

· Changes in appetite

· Difficulty sleeping

· Focus/concentration difficulty

· Loss of energy

3 -What if the loss was a sudden death? Are the feelings the same?

While you can never feel completely prepared for a death, a sudden death leaves a person feeling particularly vulnerable. Examples of sudden death would be an accident or terrorist attack, murder, suicide, or through an acute medical condition such as a heart attack. Because of the sudden nature of the death, you may experience an unexpected sequence of feelings. Specifically, you may have a delayed grief reaction resulting from the difficulty of being able to initially comprehend the events or meaning of the death.

4 - Are there any links between experiencing the trauma of unexpected death of a loved one and mental health?

Keyes (2014) suggested that although death of a loved one can be emotionally devastating, unexpected deaths provoke the strongest emotional responses, as there is less time to prepare for and adapt to the death. They suggested that unexpected death is the most obviously extreme form of loss, and sudden death is one of the more difficult forms of bereavement.

After conducting structured interviews and analyzing data from 27,534 U.S adults, the study shows that unexpected death was the most common traumatic experience and most likely to be rated as the respondent’s worst form of traumatic experiences. This study also examined the association of unexpected death of a loved one with onset of mood, anxiety, and alcohol use.

The findings suggest there is heightened incidence risk observable from childhood through late adulthood for major depression, PTSD, and panic disorder, and is particularly concentrated in older age groups for manic episodes, phobias, and alcohol use (Keyes, 2014). In order words, there appears to be an increased risk of individuals who experience unexpected death of loved to later be diagnosed or experience mental health concerns.

5 -When is it necessary to seek help and talk to professionals?

Not everyone needs to see a professional because they are grieving. Grieving the loss of a love one is completely normal. Furthermore, there are many people who able to process their thoughts in such a way that help them to be resilient. They may even have enough faith to understand that death is not the end and have figured out health ways of coping. Nevertheless, the individuals who lack social support or are unable to grieve in a healthy way, meaning, they’re in danger of hurting themselves or others, or they struggle with substance abuse, alcohol, etc. to numb the pain, or they have prolonged grief reactions years later, those individuals should consider seeking help. For those individuals, the risks of mental health consequences are much higher.

6 -If you have a friend who is grieving what is something you can do?

· Be a good listener. Be genuine.

· When you say you’re going to pray for them, do that!

· Help them with some of their daily task.

· Expect emotional ups and downs (sometimes sudden).

· Recognize that things will never be the same for that person.

· Expect a shift in the person’s perspective. What was important and meaningful before may seem trivial now.

· Be willing to agree with the person that this is a terrible event, that it’s not fair, that it’s desperately sad.

· Check to see how the person is, even many months after the loss.

· Allow the grieving person to share even angry or guilty feelings with you. Those are normal feelings and need to be expressed.

· Expect some changes in how the person relates to you. They may be more distant or more needy or alternate between these.

· Recognize that when you care about someone who has a loss, it is painful and hard on you, too. It can bring up some of your own issues of loss as well. Take care of yourself!

7 -What are something you should avoid doing or saying?

· Avoid making any assumptions about how the person will feel, behave, or what he/she will need from you. Instead, be available and open to what is needed.

· Avoid expecting the person to return to “normal” on any known schedule.

· Avoid expecting the person to follow any socially-ordained models for bereavement.

· Avoid “comforting” statements (e.g., “times heals all wounds,” “it’s all for a reason”).

· Avoid taking it personally if your efforts at comfort are rejected or don’t seem to help.

· Avoid “skirting around” the issue of the loss because you think it will make the person too sad if you ask about it or say you’re sorry (the person is thinking about it already and might really appreciate the gesture).

8 - What are some tips you can give for coping?

· Consider sharing your thoughts and feelings with others.

· Do spend time praying – God truly understands.

· Pay close attention to change in your physical and emotional health as they may be related to the loss.

· Be active in making choices and engaging in activities.

· Journal your thoughts and feelings.

· Create ways of remembering your loved ones.

· Try to focus your thoughts on the life of the person, not just the cause of their death.

· Establish realistic expectations for yourself while grieving.

· If necessary seek help, talk to professionals.

· Read scripture especially texts that will remind you of hope and the second coming of Christ.

· For Christians, death is not final. Rejoice in the hope that soon pain and suffering will be no more.

· To learn more contact us at MindCare.


Northwestern University. (n.d.). Coping with Grief After a Sudden Death. Retrieved December 16, 2020, from

Keyes, K. M., Pratt, C., Galea, S., McLaughlin, K. A., Koenen, K. C., & Shear, M. K. (2014). The

Burden of Loss: Unexpected Death of a Loved One and Psychiatric Disorders Across the Life Course in a National Study. American Journal of Psychiatry, 171(8), 864–871.

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