Supporting people after sudden death including COVID-19

Coping with sudden death: At the beginning

Next page: The first few weeks: challenging thoughts and reactions
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The sudden death of someone close is devastating. It is not only incredibly sad, but it is also the worst shock of all.

This page explains common emotions and feelings often experienced. Knowing these emotions and feelings are commonly experienced, and should fade over time, may help you to cope with them. There is also some simple advice on helping yourself at this very challenging time.

The shock at the start

People react in all kinds of ways to the shock of the death. Some people scream. Others can’t speak or even move. You may have reacted in a different way. However you reacted was normal for you and is understandable given the shattering news you have received.

I can’t believe it has happened

It is common to feel as if it has not really happened – to expect a person who has died to walk through the door or call on the phone. It can feel as though you are in a bad dream. It is common to find yourself talking about a person as if they are still alive. It can be particularly hard to bear when waking up and realising it is true. ‘Why has this happened to me?’ is a common thought.

I feel helpless

It is common to feel helpless, bewildered, powerless and overwhelmed. It is normal to find it very hard to get on with normal activities. You may also find yourself making simple mistakes when doing the simplest things.

I feel exhausted but can't sleep or eat much

It is common to stop thinking about your own most basic needs in the beginning, even if you are feeling utterly exhausted. It is common not to be able to sleep much, or sleep on your own, or eat much.

What you can do to help yourself

Below are some simple pieces of advice to help yourself in the early days of your sudden bereavement.

  1. Seek help from any close family members or friends. Tell them you need their love, support and help doing jobs. Now is not the time to try to cope on your own.
  2. Spend as much time as you can somewhere you feel safe and protected, such as your home or in the homes of close family members or friends.
  3. Delay doing difficult or dangerous jobs that require concentration. It is wise to avoid high risk activities such as driving or using dangerous machinery that require concentration to assure safety.
  4. Sleep when you can, even if only for a few hours at a time. Avoid caffeine. Some people may find sleeping tablets useful, but remember that drugs are not a long-term solution to the stress of sudden bereavement. 
  5. If you are struggling to eat, eat finger foods that are nutritious but small and easy, such as grapes, biscuits and cheese. Remember to drink. Hot drinks can be soothing. Avoid alcohol.
  6. Accept help from any accessible external care services with experience in helping people in the early stages of sudden death, such as bereavement workers in a hospital. Often, such services have somewhere quiet you can sit, that feels peaceful and safe.
  7. Remember that although everything may feel entirely bleak, it will not always feel this way. Your reactions and behaviours at this time are normal and this is a terrible time; but you will get through it and feel better in the future.

Next page: The first few weeks: challenging thoughts and reactions
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