Dealing With Unexpected Loss

The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can raise some complex issues and test our capabilities for coping. Most of us experience feelings of shock and confusion when someone close to us passes away, but a sudden death can add extra dimensions of grief and complicate the process of moving on. Below, we look at how grief manifests with unexpected loss.

Shock and Disbelief

With no time to “prepare” or slowly grieve the predicted passing of a loved one, we can feel like the rug has been pulled out from under us and are unable to process what has happened. It’s understandable that there is an initial refusal to accept an unexpected or horrifying loss. Feelings of shock or disbelief can manifest as emotional shut down or numbness that needs to be validated in the same way as “normal” manifestations of grief.


Sudden loss can invoke more anger or outrage than usual, and sufferers need a safe and accepting space for this anger to be processed. Rather than trying to “peel away” anger in order to get to the grief, anger needs to be expressed before grief can be accessed in cases of sudden, unexpected loss. Anger that is not safely expressed can manifest in other destructive ways.

Self Blame

Unexpected loss can evoke more feelings of self-blame than usual in loved ones. In response to an unpredictable death, feelings that you could or should have done something are more common. Self-blame is often a way to try to reclaim the feelings of control that unexpected loss can take away from you. In these cases, one of the hardest things to come to terms with is the fact that there was nothing you could have done to change or prevent the outcome.

Trying to Find Meaning

There may be a stronger need to “fill in the blanks” in cases of unexpected loss, especially in cases of tragic accidents or horrifying events such as murder. As humans, we don’t like the unknown and find it nearly impossible to live with not having all the answers for tragic life events. We can find ourselves either relentlessly attempting to find the answers or begin to fill in the blanks on our own.

Part of why it’s so hard to grieve unexpected losses is because they are so senseless (e.g. “they were so healthy”). Many people find comfort in being able to attach their own meaning to tragic events. Even explanations or interpretations that are unreasonable can still initially feel better than having to live with not being able to understand why something awful occurred.

Tips for Coping

Like all forms of grief, it takes time to heal and move on when a loved one passes away unexpectedly. The best thing you can do is to surround yourself with loved ones, avoid repressing any feelings and get professional support when it’s needed from psychiatrists or organisations such as BeyondBlue.

Funeral Services in Western Australia

An experienced funeral director can help mitigate the stress of making funeral arrangements — easing the burden during times of grief.  Hetherington Funerals are here to help you in Western Australia. For more information or advice, please contact us on (08) 9459 2846, submit an enquiry on our contact page or look at our funeral services here.