Grief: When it Feels like a Sudden Death


BY: Diane Snyder Cowan

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss
​Sometimes death feels sudden. But when you stop and think about it, your loved one has been suffering from a chronic illness for several years. In my work in the bereavement center with community clients and with hospice families alike, this is a common theme.

Consider this. Your loved one had heart failure. There were multiple times where he or she went into the hospital and then came home.  Relapse and remission became part of your vocabulary. One day, the doctor said something different. He said that it’s time to go home with hospice or it’s time to admit your loved one into a nursing home. You were completely caught off guard. Perhaps you were able to make  arrangements or maybe your loved one died before even leaving the hospital. The death certainly feels sudden.

Perhaps your loved one had diabetes. Along the course of the illness, there were many hospitalizations. In addition, there may have been other losses – including the loss of eyesight or a limb or there were heart issues. The same thing happens. Instead of going home to recover, the doctor suggests hospice.

Dementia. People die from dementia. Caregivers are surprised at this. Their loved one may have dementia for five to 10 years and there are countless losses along the way.  One day, death happens. It seems out of the blue and feels like a sudden death. No one told me you could die from dementia.

What can we do? Well, I won’t get on my soap box and talk about the need for physicians to be honest with patients, provide complete information about the trajectory of the illness and let families know what is on the horizon.

I will talk about grief – about what I know.

Whether the death is sudden, feels like it is sudden or has been anticipated for months, the pain of grief is not diminished. GRIEF HURTS. You need to be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time to wrap your head around what has happened. Don’t let others disenfranchise your grief with sayings like but she was sick for so long. Don’t disenfranchise your own grief. Grief is hard work that takes a lot of energy. Suggestions come from many sources, but trust yourself to do what is right for you. Talk with others. Seek a professional counselor if that seems helpful. Please know that you do not have to grieve alone.

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