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Susan PicartCoping with the Sudden Death of a Loved One

"Life is forever changed and very different following a sudden loss"
 ~ Kirsti A. Dyer

The Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting this past July brought on intense feelings of shock and confusion for me.  I kept asking myself:  Why?  What would drive someone to commit such a heinous crime?  Innocent lives lost for no apparent reason other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.  Someone’s mother, brother, sister, daughter, friend fallen by the hands of an extremely disturbed young man. As a counselor and mental health therapist, it is natural that my thoughts focus on the victims’ families and how difficult it must be for them. They now must piece together their lives, attempt to move forward, adjust to the fact that their loved one was snatched away without warning.  How will they cope with the sudden death of their beloved?
Coping with the sudden death of a loved one can be complicated. It shatters the world as we know it and often doesn’t make sense.  It leaves one shaken, unsure, and vulnerable.  Those who mourn this type of loss commonly experience the following: 
  • Shock
    The experience of initial shock can cause one to feel as though they are in a dream-like state.  Losing someone without warning is incomprehensible during this grieving phase.
  • Extreme feelings of bewilderment
    A state of confusion takes over while the bereaved constantly tries to make sense of the loss. There is an inability to grasp the situation, as well as difficulty understanding the implications of the loss.
  • Anxiety
    Anxiety can develop since the world is now perceived as a frightening and unpredictable place.  Grievers suffering from anxiety may feel as though more loved ones will be taken away without warning. 
  • Self-Reproach
    Feeling a sense of guilt or blame is common. The person may think that they should have recognized clues leading up to a loved one’s death or could have prevented the tragedy if only they had done something different.
  • Depression
    There may be a period of time in which one’s life is so overwhelmed with sadness that functioning from day to day is too difficult.  Sleeping, appetite and concentration may all suffer. 
How Can One Help? 
Initially, after such a crisis, it is okay to be persistent and offer concrete help.  A grieving family will feel overwhelmed by their loss and may not know where to start or what someone can do to help.  Thus, offers to prepare meals, help with child care, run errands or make phone calls can go a long way in assisting them.
Be prepared to listen.  Oftentimes, the grieving person may just want someone to talk to about their loss.  There may be a support group in their church or the community. Suggest they go and offer to take them.
As time passes, remember the days that will result in renewed sadness and loss. Holidays, birthdays, graduations, Mother’s Day, major sporting events and other familiar and important times are a great opportunity to reach out to the grieving family.  People like to know that others remember their loved one.
The Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare EAP is here for you if you are suffering from a sudden loss in your life or want to learn how to help someone who is grieving. You don’t have to go through it alone. We are here to help. Call us at 901-683-5658.

Author: Susan Picart is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) who has served the Memphis community as a mental health therapist for at least 8 years.  Previous to her joining the Methodist EAP team, Susan was the  the Clinical Program Director for Compass Intervention Center, a child and adolescent intensive residential treatment facility in Memphis.  She is originally from Toronto, Canada and received her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University in New York City. 
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