Coping With Sudden Loss

Coping With Sudden Loss

By Elizabeth Siegel Cohen LCSW, FT

Not a day goes by when we are not inundated with stories of shootings, accidents, senseless acts of violence or natural disasters. When these events happen, we might feel shock or sadness, yet we strive to protect ourselves by keeping the tragedies at arm’s length. But how do we handle an unexpected or sudden loss in our own lives?   

Loss can be emotionally challenging.  When it is a sudden loss the cognitive, emotional, physical and spiritual response may be especially profound.  Whether you are healing from a sudden loss yourself or providing comfort and compassion to someone you know, here are some points to keep in mind. 

  • Shock and disbelief are the hallmarks of sudden loss.   Because we are unprepared, it takes quite a while for the reality of the loss to sink in.  Sometimes this shock and disbelief manifests as numbness. We can walk around for days, weeks or even months feeling very disconnected from the loss and those who are attempting to offer support.  This does not mean that we do not feel sad or that we do not experience grief.  It just may take a bit for the full array of feelings to surface.  
  • Many survivors of a sudden loss express great anger. They are angry about the death; they are angry about the circumstances; they are angry that they didn’t have any warning and they may even feel angry with G-d.  They may struggle with the unfairness or injustice of the loss. When someone you care about has experienced this type of loss, it can be difficult to handle the intensity of their anger.  Remember that the anger needs a safe space to be witnessed and held before the mourner can move forward in processing and adapting. 
  • Another key component of sudden loss is the sense of self blame or the “if only” statements. Many expend a good deal of mental energy trying to figure out what they could have done differently to prevent the death.  Although this is painful and exhausting to go through for both the mourners and those who love them, it’s important to be patient and allow time.
  • In addition to the self-blame that is experienced, there are the regrets and guilt that come with sudden loss.  We ponder the conversations we never had, or the emotions left unexpressed. It’s very hard to accept the reality that there just was not enough time to say everything that is in our hearts. 
  • When death is senseless, we may need to work even harder to make some meaning from the loss. There are many ways that people choose to do this including giving to a charity that reflects their loved one’s passion, doing acts of kindness that keep the legacy of their loved one alive, or even starting a foundation in their loved one’s name.
  • There is great resilience that can come from the loss.  A piece of that resilience is the new found lived knowledge of how much we cherish the time we have with our loved ones and the preciousness of life. 

JCFS Chicago, with support from The Lauri S. Bauer Foundation for Sudden Loss, will present the 7th Annual Conference on Help, Healing and Hope After Loss on Thursday May 9th at B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim Congregation in Deerfield.  The evening starts with a dessert reception at 7pm followed by the program from 7:30 - 9pm.  This year we welcome guest speaker Dr. John Jordan PhD, who will talk about “Grief After Sudden Loss: Finding Hope and Healing”.  There is no charge to attend and all are welcome. 

Register for the 7th Annual Conference on Help, Healing and Hope After Loss

Parts of this article were adapted from “Dealing with Unexpected Loss: The Challenges of a Different Kind of Grief” from a Psychology Today blog by Lisa Ferentz LCSW-C DAPA