How to Process an Unexpected Death

Unfortunately, death is an inevitable part of life. While no one wants to have to go through the process of grieving after losing someone close to them, we all will have to go through this process at some point so it's very important that we learn how to cope with death. Grieving a loved one is extremely challenging, and when someone close to you passes away unexpectedly, it can be even more difficult to process your loss.

Shock and confusion can quickly turn into deep sadness. The loss of a loved one is also one of the main causes of depression and mental health problems. While sad feelings are a normal part of the grieving process that tends to get better with time, it’s helpful to find ways to consciously process your grief and move through your pain to start the healing process. Your grieving process may take months or even years, and that is okay. Some say that grieving the loss of a loved one never really ends. Note that there’s not a normal amount of time to be in grief, as the healing journey is different for everyone. However, there are preventative measures you can follow to make sure that healthy grief doesn’t turn into deeper issues that affect your mental health and cause emotional pain.

Every individual’s process with the death of a loved one will be different. After all, we’re all different and no two people will have had the same relationship with the person who passed. Whether you’re a grieving parent or a grieving child suffering from an unexpected loss or the passing of a loved one with a terminal illness, the guidance of a therapist can help you process the different stages of grief. Coming to terms with the death of a loved one is never easy, but having a solid grief support system behind you can make it easier. Use the advice in this article as a guide to help you through your process of mourning. 

What is Grief? 

When someone close to you dies unexpectedly, the emotions you feel will likely take you for a bit of a ride. We tend to think of grief as a distinct period of intense sadness that occurs after something difficult happens. We think of our grief as having a distinct beginning and end, and we believe that it consists of specific feelings and stages. For most, this isn’t the case.

Grief is a complex and ongoing process that involves a wide range of emotional symptoms. Everyone deals with grief differently. Understanding the emotional responses that losing a loved one unexpectedly can invoke is important because it helps us understand our feelings. The emotional symptoms of grief include:

  • Sadness. When we think of losing a loved one to an unexpected death, sadness is the feeling most of us expect to experience. Indeed, sadness is probably one of the most universally experienced symptoms of grief. Despair, emptiness, deep loneliness, and yearning are all part of feeling deeply saddened by a loss. Sadness is an aspect of grief that’s likely to continue showing up for quite some time. Being overwhelmed by sad feelings, especially shortly after someone passes away, is normal. If this isn’t a part of your process that’s okay, too.
  • Shock and Disbelief. It can be difficult to accept and process what has happened when you lose someone close to you. This effect is heightened when it is a sudden loss,  rather than after a long battle with an illness. Feeling numb and struggling to fully believe what has happened are intense feelings of shock. Even denying the loss in disbelief for a period of time is not an uncommon grief reaction. 
  • Guilt. Guilt is also common. This doesn’t have to mean that you feel a sense of responsibility for your loved one’s death. Many people feel guilty for not having said or done things while the person was alive. Additionally, guilt comes up for many as a response to observing their own process of grief. You may feel guilty for not feeling sad all the time or for not thinking about the person nonstop. It’s important to remember that these are unrealistic expectations of yourself, and this guilt only makes the process more difficult.
  • Anger. We may feel angry, even at the loved one who has passed. We might feel anger towards ourselves for feeling angry. Anger can be born out of other emotions involved in the grief process, such as confusion, sadness, or guilt.
  • Fear. Losing a loved one unexpectedly sometimes makes us fearful and can cause anxiety. Maybe we feel scared that the same could happen to ourselves or to others that we love. Losing someone suddenly is a traumatic experience, and a natural trauma response is to fear history repeating itself.

Being familiar with common feelings associated with grief can help us to be prepared for what we may experience in our own process. Remember, you might feel all of these feelings or none. You might feel them all at once or one at a time. You might feel them for a month or for the rest of your life. The important part is that you can recognize your own grief for what it is and have compassion for yourself. 

Find Support

You don’t need to be alone in your process with grief. After an unexpected death occurs, it’s easy to isolate yourself. The feelings that come up in your grieving process can be difficult to share with other loved ones, friends, and family members because you might not want to be a burden or to bring everyone down.

However, not choosing someone to talk to about your thoughts and feelings makes it very difficult to work through your emotions. Oftentimes, your friends and family are much more willing to support you than you might think. Simply being upfront with your emotional needs can go a long way. Try asking your loved ones if they could set some time aside to talk with you about your grief or join a grief support group.

Grief Counseling

Friends and family can be a huge supporting force in all the different stages of grief. But it’s unlikely that they’ll be truly equipped to help and support you through all the different aspects of this difficult time. This is where grief counseling can play an important role.

Grief counseling is a type of therapy that’s specifically aimed at helping people cope with loss. This type of therapy can take on many different forms. In general, grief counseling is a form of talk therapy, so it primarily involves speaking one-on-one with a trained and licensed grief counselor. Within this framework, there’s a lot of room to personalize based on your specific needs.

Grief counselors are trained to be prepared to handle all of the effects of someone’s grieving process. Sometimes, the anguish you may feel after losing a loved one unexpectedly is simply too much to process with friends and family. In these cases, having a skilled grief counselor as a resource can make a huge difference in your healing and grief journey.

This form of therapy can help you work through your heartbreak due to sudden death. As you move through the stages of grief, a skilled grief counselor can guide you along the way.

Take Care of Yourself

There are certain ways that you can lean on yourself in addition to others. Taking care of yourself properly after an unexpected death is essential to your well-being. 

Eat Well

Grief can take a physical toll as well as an emotional one. Major changes in appetite that result in weight gain or loss are common. Try to mitigate the effect of stress on your body by eating a normal amount of healthy foods. Eating plenty of quality foods including vegetables and fruits can improve and stabilize your mood. Think of this as giving your body the fuel it needs to cope with the extra emotional weight it’s carrying. 

Be Wary of Drugs and Alcohol

During a period of grief, be extra cautious with your intake of alcohol and any other mind-altering substances. It can be particularly tempting during a painful time to just have a couple of drinks in order to lessen the burden a bit. This isn’t a healthy way to approach your grief.

Numbing the pain isn’t a long term solution. While it might feel good to use drugs or alcohol to temporarily ease your feelings of grief, this is the same thing as placing a bandaid on a major wound. Your grief requires attention, care, and time to process. Drinking, smoking, or using other substances isn’t an effective way to work through your feelings.

Take a Break

It’s also completely normal to feel like you need to take a break from the grieving process. In these moments, try doing something you enjoy such as engaging in a hobby or hanging out with some friends to distract yourself.

If you’ve just lost a loved one from sudden death, please remember you don’t have to go through the grieving process alone. Needing a therapist is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength. At Advekit, we pair trained therapists with individuals to help them improve their mental fitness for a brighter and happier future. Let us help you find the right match during your time of need. 


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