Sudden Loss

Facing Sudden Death: When someone dies accidentally, unexpectedly, and/or violently

Loss in itself is painful enough, but sudden loss is shocking and the shock can double one’s pain and intensify grief.  A sudden loss may seem more painful, complicated and emotional.  Besides the common phases of grief a sudden loss has some additional challenges.

  • There is no chance to prepare or to gradually absorb the change in your world
  • There is an increase in grief over the senselessness or unfairness nature of the death
    • Some feel cheated as there was no last good-bye
    • Feeling cheated can add to one’s despair and anguish
    • “If only . . .” is a common question one may ask themselves
  • There may be grief over the lack of dignity of the death
    • Feeling the deceased was denied a peaceful or natural death
  • The world can feel less safe
    • Feelings of disenfranchisement (the world is bad) and vulnerability may increase
    • Feeling fearful, uncertain, angry and/or frustrated with the world
    • It may be hard to watch TV, read the news, etc.
  • There may be feelings of guilt because you have survived
    • This is a normal feeling, even if it feels unreasonable
    • Taking some responsibility for the death is an attempt to get some control of the senselessness of the incident
  • When a younger person dies suddenly or violently the feeling of unnaturalness is heightened for some, “they still had so much life to live”
  • Some sudden losses have media coverage making the loss more public
    • Some feel a loss of privacy or information is misrepresented
    • Yet one may find themselves obsessively gathering/following the reports
  • There may also be more involvement of the criminal justice system
    • Negotiating autopsies, police reports, legal meetings/hearing can increase emotional turmoil
    • The legal system can also go on for some time, possibly delaying parts of the grieving process
  • Anger/rage feeling may be overwhelming
  • There may be a lack of control over memories and thoughts about the loss
  • Some may feel isolated
    • Not sure who to trust and lean on for support

Take care of yourself through your grief

  • Express your feelings
  • Get support from others
    • Be it from family, friends, counselor, or a grief group

Adapted from Hospice Care of Boulder and Broomfield and Hospice Foundation of

To return to Office of Victim Assistance’s Grief and Loss/Death Overview page click here