Handbook for Mortals : Dying suddenly : What can you do when someone you love dies suddenly?

Most of us will face the sudden and unexpected death of someone we love. When this happens, how do we survive our own grief and sorrow? First, be assured that time does help. Just endure for a while -- the overwhelming sense of unreality, or numbness, or anger will lessen. So too will the wild swings of emotion. You will gradually begin to move forward with your own life, to make decisions, and to enjoy the world again.

With sudden death, survivors are likely to keep questioning the events that led to death and to feel little sense of a completed life. Some people have found it helpful to act out what would have been said or done, if only you could have been there, or if only you had had a few minutes to talk. Some survivors dream of the person or see him everywhere for a while. You might take that occurrence as an opportunity to write down what you would say, even to put it in an envelope and tuck it away.

Look for support from many sources

Sudden death often leaves practical matters in real disarray. There will be children or other dependents to take care of. Financial matters may be unsettled; property issues must be resolved. With any luck, there will also be some trustworthy family or friends to help. Share your emotions and check your decisions with someone who is not directly affected by what has happened, if you can. They can tell you if you are making good sense.

If you are truly on your own, reach out to professionals -- chaplains, social workers, teachers, licensed counselors. Every grief-stricken person must have someone to lean on. You should also seek some professional support for a while. Many people find they need to push themselves into counseling or support groups at first, but later they say that this support turned out to be a lifeline and a great comfort.

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Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
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