Coping With a Sudden, Traumatic Death

traumatic deathDeath is a difficult yet inevitable part of life, but a sudden death is an unforeseeable and, at times horrendous, incident that is even more difficult to cope with. A traumatic death can be sudden, violent, destructive, and preventable. When a death is a result of suicide or homicide, the situation is even more distressing and challenging to respond to.

The loss of a loved one is a terrible experience to undergo but to lose someone on such shocking terms is unimaginable. An unanticipated tragic event shatters the world we know and leaves mourners in emotional turmoil. Each individual responds differently to the situation: some grieve with tears, others scream and curse at the world, many remain in a state of denial, and others feel a great numbness overcome them. There is no time to absorb this sudden death and really process what happened; you are just thrown into the midst of chaos, unwillingly and unprepared.

One reason a sudden, traumatic death can be so difficult to cope with is because there may be a sense of regret added to the fusion of emotions. Many may feel cheated of their opportunity to spend time with the loved one or the opportunity to say a final goodbye, along with any additional thoughts. Instead all that is left is a sense of emptiness. Grief of any form is difficult to manage, whether unforeseen or predicted, but each has their own set of struggles to overcome.

Many professionals agree that people undergo five stages of grief after a loss (note that each person may experience the stages differently and/or many not make it to the point of acceptance):

  1. Shock – the initial astonishment of the events that occurred
  2. Disbelief/Denial– the refusal to believe/accept this has actually happened
  3. Anger/Guilt – searching for someone/something to blame; possibly blaming self for not being able to prevent the loss or for not spending as much time with the deceased
  4. Depression – inability to function due to the extreme feelings of misery
  5. Acceptance – acknowledgement that what happened, happened and there is nothing that can be done to change the past

The length of time for each stage will vary with each individual and may not go exactly as described, but this is a general emotional response of a mourner. Nothing can change the events that have occurred, nor can anything magically make the situation better, but there are some points to keep in mind that can help alleviate the process and hardship:

  • Utilize a support system. There is no reason to cope with a loss alone, and you are not the only one coping either.
  • Don’t suppress your emotions. Use your support system as an outlet to express how you feel and what you’re going through. Chances are your friends and family may be feeling the same way, so you will be able to cope and even share memories together. It’s ok not to be the “strong one,” so be honest with yourself and others about how you feel.
  • Begin the notification process. If this is too difficult to do alone, ask someone to help you. Remember, it may be best to notify some people person to person.
  • Consider your health. You need to keep in mind that your health is important too, so don’t try to do it all alone. Take off of work if possible, try to eat, rest, and contact a family doctor, grief counselor, support group, your religious affiliation, or whatever contact you feel comfortable and confident with.
  • Be aware that the grieving process varies from person to person. Some may experience emotional symptoms, and others may even experience physical symptoms of grief.

The grieving process is not easy, but it is manageable. If you can, minimize other stresses to make the process a bit easier. Some matters should not be delayed and should be addressed as soon as possible so that the grieving may commence. Funeral arrangements need to be made; keep in mind any requests of the deceased. As a traumatic death, discussion with the police may be a necessary evil, but it can be accomplished with the help of a friend/family member in order to make it easier. Legal matters will also need to be addressed, and if the tragic loss has occurred in the residence, cleanup arrangements will need to be met – professional services can take that heavy burden off your shoulders and complete the cleanup so you don’t have to worry about it. You are not alone, and with the support of friends and family, you will be able to make it through this difficult time.