Coping with Grief after a Sudden Loss

By Carlos Bermeo, LCSW, NBCCH, JFCS Director of Clinical Services

Following the unexpected and sudden loss of a loved one, there is no “formula” for dealing with grief. It is important to find ways to remember the deceased that will allow you to peacefully move on and live the life you were meant to live. A sudden death evokes feelings of shock and disbelief that are caused by the devastating nature of the experience. While we can never be completely prepared for a loved one’s death, a sudden death leaves us feeling particularly vulnerable.

Although it is impossible to address the many unique reactions to a sudden death, there are some similar issues and feelings that survivors commonly confront:

  • Shock: feeling disconnected to your feelings or to other people
  • Disbelief: feeling numb or convinced there has been a mistake
  • Helplessness: not knowing what to do or how to be effective during this painful time
  • Regret: feeling you have missed opportunities to say or do things
  • Guilt: believing or wishing you could have done something to prevent the death
  • Anger at the situation itself or with the person for no longer being present
  • Sadness or frequent crying

Grieving individuals may also be impacted physically, with symptoms that include difficulty sleeping; changes in appetite; loss of energy; and difficulty with focus or concentration. Because of the sudden nature of the death, you may experience an unexpected sequence of feelings. Specifically, you may have a delayed grief reaction resulting from the difficulty of being able to initially comprehend the events or meaning of the death.

Tips for Coping:

  • Consider sharing your thoughts and feelings with others
  • Pay close attention to (and seek help for) any changes in physical and emotional health, which may be related to the loss
  • Be active in making choices and engaging in activities
  • Journal your thoughts and feelings
  • Create meaningful ways of remembering your loved ones
  • Establish realistic expectations for yourself while grieving
  • Talk to professionals

There is no “right” way to grieve, and survivors need to be patient with themselves. Mourning is a process that should be done at each individual’s pace, and should not be dictated by friends or family. Elizabeth K. Carll, PhD, a psychologist specializing in trauma, violence, and family relationships, believes that there is no “cookie cutter” approach to the grieving process and states that grief is an “uneven process” with no clear timeline. Dr. Carll emphasizes that the circumstances of the loss, as well as anniversary dates of the loss, are significant for the survivors and should be acknowledged.

Those who are grieving need opportunities to share their memories and grief. They are not best left alone, and they do need support. The JFCS counseling department is committed to offering support for our community. We are here for you. If you or someone you love are in need of help, please reach out to us at 856-424-1333 or visit