Coping with Sudden Death

By Therese Rando, Ph.D.

Sudden DeathIn both sudden death and anticipated death, there is pain. However, while the grief is not greater in sudden death, the capacity to cope is diminished. Grievers are shocked and stunned by the sudden loss of their loved one. The loss is so disruptive that recovery almost always is complicated. This because the adaptive capacities are so severely assaulted and the ability to cope is so critically injured that functioning is seriously impaired. Grievers are overwhelmed.

If you are such a griever, you probably are suffering extreme feelings of bewilderment, anxiety, self-reproach, and depression, and you may be unable to continue normal life. You had no preparation and no time to gradually absorb the reality that the world was about to change dramatically.

Instead, there was a sudden destruction of the world you used to know...



Dr. Therese Rando, author of How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, is a psychologist in Warwick, Rhode Island, where she is the Clinical Director of The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Loss. Having published 70 works pertaining to the clinical aspects of dying, death, loss, and trauma, Dr. Rando is a recognized expert in the field and has appeared on numerous television programs, including "Dateline," "CBS This Morning," "Today Show," "Good Morning, America" and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Image by Tim Teebken / Getty Images


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Comment by Vee Herrera Michrina on August 6, 2012 at 12:48pm

Hi Dear, I want to find a support group too, did you find a local group? I am getting online support which is amazing! I want to change my middle name to my boyfriend/companion/love’s last name, to have a way to always have him with me.

I hope your day is better today. I have Barry’s picture framed in my room. I love him more each day. LOVE does not every go away. The Bible says this too.

I find that when we lose someone, after the funeral, everyone expects us to just “move on”. To me that is not possible, we have no choice but to be carried with the flow of time, but in a sense, time has stood still.

I hope you take time to pamper and honor yourself today. THANK YOU for your response. 

Gentle hugs

Blessings, Vee

Comment by 95688 on August 6, 2012 at 12:15pm
I posted back on Mar 10, 2012 and regarding this post things have not really changed. I still feel the same way. There may be a handful of people that are more accomodating to me and my grief but many of them are from my support group and have actually experienced the same type of loss. The ones that haven't been through it but are still sympathetic is one of the greatest things I could ask for now. As it's not easy going through this and feeling alone.
Comment by Vee Herrera Michrina on August 4, 2012 at 9:14pm

I bow in reverence before the emotions of every melted heart. We have a human right to our sorrow. To blame the deep grief which bereavement awakens is to censure all strong human attachments. The more intense the delight in their presence

, the more poignant the impression of their absence; and you cannot destroy the anguish unless you forbid the joy. A morality which rebukes sorrow rebukes love. When the tears of bereavement have had their natural flow, they lead us again to life and love's generous joy.” --James Martineau
Comment by Vee Herrera Michrina on August 4, 2012 at 12:53pm

Dear Beloved Mother of your beautiful son, I am so sorry! I am hurting as I type these words. ALl seems so meaningless when we’ve lost the largest part of our heart. I am so so so sorry!

I have not losted a child, although I am a mother and know the depth of our love is so deep we dont even know how much we love them. Only God knows. I did just lose my beloved boyfriend/companion/best friend of 11 years, he died in April. It seems as fresh as ever. I have to come to grief support to “COPE”? (Whatever that means).

I am a Christian and my great hope is that we do see our loved ones again, we’ve got to hold that to our bosom. Think of it this way: IS THIS NOT YOUR GREAT HOPE NOW? IS IT NOT POSSIBLE? YES! IT IS. I do know that the loss now does not end because you have this great hope, but later it will. In my family we lost my niece who was murdered 3 years ago and now we try to see her smile and not let death rob us of her life, of her spirit, of her heart, and her great smile. 

NOW, the BIble says “Is a time to mourn” and you son certainly rates you mourning. I know a dear freind who lost her 18 year old son and it took her2 years to “begin to feel a new normal” so dear, get all the support you can. Write to us on here it helps!

I am Veronica, age 49 (50 in Oct). I have 6 children.
I was raised by a grieving mother myself as my 3 year old brother died when I was 2, and mom was never the same. LOSING  a CHILD Is like no other pain on this earth. And people try to comfort you with word like “Well time will heal” etc. WELL HONEY, time has no power to heal, only GOD can heal and this takes a lifetime til we see them again.

I hope you are working on his legacy in the meantime> With Barry I am having a memorial bench put by a lake on a walking path to honor his memory. I also am working on other can also find something he loved and somehow incorporate that...

I pray right now for your family with every word I say, may the Lord hold you and comfort you in little rays of sunshine in the midst of this storm.

Blessings, Vee, Colorado,

Comment by Christine Wilson on August 4, 2012 at 8:00am

My name is Christine.  I am struggling with the loss my 16 year old son.  On July 8, 2012 he was in a motorcycle accident where he was the only person involved.  I am struggling with the pain, the loss, the reason why he died and everything else.  I am stuggling with why there isn't someone for me to blame, someone for me to hate...someone for me to take my frustrations out on. 

I had seen my son that morning before he left for work.  We did the normal "love you, hope you have a good day, be careful" morning routine and I spoke to him at 4:10 that afternoon.  We were going to meet up about 4:30.  Being a teenager, he left something at home that he needed to go to dinner with his friends.  I waited on him for about 10 minutes, then left his stuff at his work for him to pick up as I had a few more errands to run.  At 4:44 that evening I sent him a text telling him where I had left his stuff and telling him I was sorry I couldn't wait.  I knew that when he got there to meet me and saw that I wasn't there, he would check his text and see where his stuff was.  I got the call about 4:55 from his dad that he had been in an accident and that it was bad. 


My son died at 6:10 that evening.  We were able to be in the hospital room with him while all these amazing doctors had worked on him for what seemed like forever.  We were there with him when he passed away. 


People keep telling me that it will get better with time.  I can't see that.  Each day is a new struggle, a new pain and a new question... I just can't understand why my beautiful 16 year old son is gone... I am not suicidal by any means, but I just can't seem to figure out how to cope.  I am completely devastated by this.

Comment by Rebecca Costello on July 10, 2012 at 10:13am

My sister died of a cardiac arrest on 4th April 2012, she had just turned 20. One of the main issues is not saying goodbye and the constant thought of 'was she in pain' mainly I miss her and feel guilty I couldn't save her.

Comment by Helen Coleman on July 9, 2012 at 10:55pm

I lost my boyfriend on thursday..actually, he had passed on Sunday night, but I found him on thursday. He was my best friend and my son's stepfather. Unfortunatly we did not live together at this time because we were working things out. I blame myself for not checking up on him earlier than thursday. I cant get the image of his dead body and his hands, or how cold he was, or how death smelled. I kept thinking that his death smelled sweet and I hope my death smells as sweet as his. People keep telling me that this is God's plan, and all I think is that this plan sucks. I love this man and now everything makes me think of him. I just feel like going to sleep and never waking up, and if it wasnt for my son I would be sleeping right now. The only picture he had in his home was of me and him. I am scared to live in this cold world without him. I sleep with the shirt he wore last, and even though it smells like death, I cant stop smelling it. I close my eyes and see his hands, black and cold. I am losing my faith in God. I am losing faith in myself I feel lost and dead inside. I dont want to leave the house and see the sun yet. I just wish it would rain for 33 yrs, and the world would end right now so I could be with him again. Funeral is on wednesday and I feel like time has stood still from the moment I walked in his home on thurs. I am in so much pain, physical pain from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet, and breathing has never hurt so bad...I dont know what this is, I dont know where I am, I dont know if I am still alive. My heart and soul died when he exhaled his last breath...

Comment by Elizabeth Martinez on June 25, 2012 at 1:25am

My mom died suddenly on June 7, 2012 of a heart attack she was 51 years.  I feel so bad :( she had recently moved 9 hours away to a house in the middle of no where.  I was upset and worried because she was moving so far away I had not spoken to her in a month and the night I got the call that she had passed I called her house begging and praying that she would answer. I left her a msg telling her that I loved her and I was sooooo sorry for being mad at her. This was the first time in my life that I had not been there for my mom I love her so much I just wish I could have said good-bye I kept it together at her rosary/funeral but I was going crazy inside I just wanted to scream for her to wake up.

I miss her very much :'(


Comment by Robin Preston-Richeson on June 24, 2012 at 12:59am

I'm Robin and I lost my Mom unexpectedly on May 18, 2012. Mom passed away from a massive heart attack and I'm saddened because I never got around to saying goodbye and I love you for the last time. None of us (her five children) expected anything like this to happen.

My brother and three sisters are 7-14 years younger than me and my husband and I have tried so hard to be there for my siblings. It just seems so unreal for her to be gone at all. I cry at the strangest times and I'm not afraid to cry in front of my children who're 6 and 10 years old.

I'd give anything to have her back. She was my best friend.

Comment by carol on June 16, 2012 at 5:04pm
I lost my boyfriend and the father of my 7 week old baby on May 27 2012...he died in a car accident. I'm still in a daze and pretty much confused. I'm not in denial bout his death,I know that he is gone and not coming back, but I still pray for just 1 last conversation with him so I can tell him how much I loved him and how happy he made me. The artticle is so on point,I have been going back in my head searching for clues th@ I think I missed th@ cud have prepared me for hhis death,but I'm failing,and at times I blame myself...I can't imagine how I'm supposed to go on without him,I don't want to go on. But @ the sametime I have to pull myself together cos I hhave a 7 week old baby who needs me!
Comment by Shweta Tyagi on May 13, 2012 at 7:51am
I lost my mother 2 months back, she commited suicide. She was suffering from depression.
Later I got to know it was due to menopause. I cant bear the pain, I get depressed myself, sometimes I have thoughts of killing myself. I have lost interest in everything, I can't lead a normal life. I don't know how to accept it all.
Comment by Vee Herrera Michrina on May 11, 2012 at 5:00am

This helped validate some of my most severe emotions and symptoms. I am suffering deep deep grief!I am "spinning' and no one seems to notice. I lost my dearest friend/companion, Barry, just 3 weeks ago. I am so bewildered and so deeply in agony over the "reality" of this loss. HE"S gone! my beautiful Barry is gone! and I am grieving alone! his family all live in the another state and because he and i were not married, I am seen as "just his friend" an "old girlfriend" but they don't know the depth of our beautiful bond and how we texted daily, several times a day we shared our tid bits of our day. I have so much compassion for those who are grieving now. I am 49, and i have never loss someone this close to my personal life. 

I remember every little thing now; his voice; his laugh; his scent; his clothes and how will I ever make it now? I am numb and wonder what will happen. I truly feel I will die from grief and If I told anyone that they would say "how silly! you cannot die from grief" and I would say, "but I want to die so maybe I can find him".

People say "remember the good times" and I say, " I do, but that's what makes it hurt so badily!". I am in so much pain. I love him eternally. I hope he seems me and watches over me as he did in life on this earth. I believe in God and I believe love is eternal.

Thank you all for sharing your stories and we are all now part of this big club of mourners. The warm sunlight genly shone on my face today and I felt Barry help me choose purple flowers. 


tears, a river of tears that are forming deltas to the seas of loss.... 

Comment by Margy Dowzer on May 7, 2012 at 3:09pm

I lost my longest, closest friend, Maureen, over a year ago. We were ex-lovers, former co-workers. and best friends for over 32 years. She was more like a sister to me, and died unexpectedly 10 days after I last spent several days with her. 15-20 minutes before the call came to tell me of the news, I had stabbing heart pain, couldn't catch my breath. I lay down on the couch and told my partner I didn't know if I could go out to the dance party we were preparing to attend. (We were late, but I couldn't get up.) Then, my partner answered the phone, and my world exploded. I still can't believe it, sometimes. Maureen and I were there for each other for so many life transitions, deaths, illnesses, funerals, happy and crazy times. I have some regrets and they hurt like hell. I also have many happy memories. But not many people I can talk to at this point about how she's on my mind so much of the time. I thank you all for sharing your stories and your feelings.

Comment by Kim on April 9, 2012 at 11:01am

My profile picture is on my wedding day 11-7-09 with my wonderful father Larry. He was taken from me almost exactly 2 years later on 11-16-11. He passed away at his home, at his favorite spot on the couch from a sudden massive heart attack. My mom was lying down in the other room, and when she came out he was already gone. He died alone. No one got to be with him or tell them how much they loved him or hold his hand. She called me at work and I remember dropping the phone and I was on the floor. I drove as fast as I could but when I got there the paramedics had already stopped working on him. I ran into the house and my knees buckled again as I saw a blanket covering his body except for his feet. I maybe 37 years old, but I felt like a little girl who just wanted her daddy back. I ran an laid beside him and held his hand and told him how much I loved him and how sorry I was I wasn't there for him when he needed me the most. He was the strongest man, the best man I've ever known, he wasn't proud, he was a quiet, steady strong, always there, always loving. He would do anything for anyone. He meant the world to me. I would give anything to have another day with him. I feel such guilt for not spending more time with him. We hardly ever fought. There were no bad feelings, I just needed to spend more time with him and do more for him. I hurt everyday and I just cannot seem to get beyond it. I have a daughter and 2 step-daughters and a wonderful husband. I still have my mother. I have a lot to be thankful for yet, my heart is so full of hurt and grief that it seems to boil over and I feel as if I have nothing left to offer anyone. So much of me died with him.

Comment by 95688 on March 10, 2012 at 3:02am

I am 29 and lost my son Elijah James Barker on 22 Dec 2011. His due date was 12/25/11. I had an appointment a day before he passed where I felt the doctor dismissed my concerns. I waited 2 hours to be seen and was only in his office for 10 minutes. I blame me, I blame him, I blame God. Why are people aborting their babies at 6 months, and I am almost at 40 weeks and lose my baby. He didnt deserve it. I miss my baby everyday. Life has no meaning anymore. Why is there hardly any support for this and why is the world still so cold if they get wind that you have a stillbirth? You'd think they'd be more considerate but they say stupid things and are less than helpful at times. I served in the military for 6 years, have worked with the dept of veterans affairs for 4 and I get treated like crap even after what I've been through. And no one is willing to help and always wants to pass the buck. I can't do this anymore. I have extreme anxiety just being out in the world because there are pregnant people, babies, and toddlers. I can't concentrate and focus and get migraines. I dont want to go on. Uhhh!!! Take this pain away...

Comment by Tony on December 20, 2011 at 4:21am
I am 29 years old and I lost my mother a few nights ago. She passed away from a fatal heart attack. I feel so much guilt for not seeing the signs leading up to her attack. She believed as I did that she was just getting tired and needed a few days rest. I keep telling myself that she could have been saved if I just took her to the hospital a few days earlier. I had just gotten married a month ago and she was planning to go see my brother's second new born child. She always told me that once I had my first child she would be complete, as I was the last of her 3 sons to get married and have children. The worst part is that I never even got to say goodbye to her. I feel so lost now. I still can't believe she is gone from my life
Comment by Sue Martin on December 20, 2011 at 12:51am

My husband passed on March 17, 2011 after 18 days in ICU. He was completely healthy before he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Even the doctors believed he would make a full recovery. So now I am left with 38 years of memories that we shared, with no hope of making any more. My faith is strong; I know I will be with him again in heaven. But faith does not erase the grief; I still must endure the pain of being alone, something I really hate. I've had moments when I just tried to lay down and give up, but each time thoughts of my grandbabies would flood my mind and I knew I had to keep going. Life is a roller coaster of emotions. I never know when some tiny thing will trigger a flood of tears. I still find myself expecting him to walk through the door, even though I know it won't happen. I miss having someone to share all the little things with that happen during the day. My heart is still breaking.

Comment by Fonda BOM on June 30, 2011 at 2:38am
I first met my husband when i was in grade 6 and he was in Junior High Grade 8; i was so in love with him...we were at a fastball tournament, (fastball was the sport we both loved) and then he asked me out...i was 14 years old and he was 17...33 years of being together; in 2008 he had an affair and since then our marriage has been so complicated; 2 weeks ago we had a fight, so he went and stayed with a friend...i just thought that he just wanted me to cool off and that we he would be home again, well the night of Father's Day June 19, 2011, i called his cell but there was no answer so i left a message on his voice mail...3:30 am that night the police came and informed me...I am so sorry to tell you, but your husband was killed in a pedestrian accident...i was lost for words and in shock...i still can't believe he is gone, it is so hard to accept, i didn't have time to say goodbye or to say that i was sorry for being heart is broken and the pain is unbearable, tears start falling at night and i hold on to his shirt that he left near the night stand, i just want to wake up from this bad nightmare...
Comment by Devastated woman on June 8, 2011 at 7:29pm
on May 28,2011 I lost my loving husband of 19 years, suddenly at the age of 43. He was a healthy man and his death is still a mystery. We have five great kids and I am in devastating pain right now. Our kids seem so numb and together we are lost. I hate to sound selfish but I have even had thoughts of suicide as a way of not dealing with the pain, but each time Ihave those thoughts, one of our children seem to make themselves available to me or need me for something, and that brings me back to my normal thinking. My husband and I were so close and have always had undying love for each other. I can't bare the thought of starting over again or a life without him, but I know because of our babies I must. We need help in some sort of way because although I appear to be strong for my kids, I am not strong enough for us as a whole at all.
Comment by monique torrez on February 25, 2011 at 5:26pm
The coping with sudden death story was such a beautiful artical. I could not have said it better myself, it is as if it was written about me. I lost my 18yr. old son one day when he was walking home from school, He was walking on the train tracks and the train came up from behind him, He was struck and killed. It was like he went to school one day and never came home, he was killed at 6:30pm and the police notify me at home around 10:30 that night. By that time the body was already taken away nore did they let me view the body, I feel like I never got to say goodbye no touch no final look. This is the hardest, sadest and mental mind blowing situation i ever been through. At times I wish I was dead

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