Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Coping with Sudden Death.. Part 2 of 3

~ By Therese Rando, Ph.D. ~ Continued from Part 1 on Monday, June 4, 2012

After a sudden death, the loss doesn’t make sense. The critically important understanding of what happened is missing. The sudden shock of losing someone we love without warning so stuns us that we cannot comprehend what has transpired. Consequently, if your loved one died suddenly, you may be unable to grasp the situation and find it difficult to understand the implications of the loss. Accepting that the death occurred can be difficult, even if you intellectually recognize that it happened. The death may continue to seem inexplicable for a long period of time. You repeatedly will have to go over the story of the accident or of the heart attack to try to make sense of the loss after the fact.

Because you were not prepared for the death and it had no understandable context, you will try to deal with your lack of anticipation by putting the loss into a series of events. You may find yourself looking back at the time leading up to the death and searching for clues that could have indicated what was to come. For example, one woman looked back on the days preceding her husband’s sudden fatal heart attack and “perceived” warnings she had missed initially. This tendency to reconstruct events in your mind in order to allow for some anticipation of the death is quite common. It is an attempt to restructure what happened so that it seems you had some inkling that the death was going to occur: “He really didn’t look that good in the last few weeks as I look back on at now’ or “You know, he was visiting his sisters whom he had not seen in a long time. Maybe he knew that something would happen.”

This retrospective construction of events makes the situation more manageable. It gives a perception of logical progression, of control and predictability, and retrospectively provides you with some anticipation and preparation.

However, problems arise when you hold yourself responsible for not perceiving cues that were actually either imperceptible or nonexistent prior to the death. Frequently grievers react emotionally and respond to what they perceive as unmet responsibility. One woman felt inordinate guilt for many years for not recognizing that her mother had been having some difficulty climbing the stairs. After her mother died suddenly from a burst aneurysm, the daughter felt that she should have recognized the mother’s impairment and known that it meant that something was wrong with her. However, unless this woman had been a physician and had run tests on her mother, there really was no way she could have known.

For survivors whose loved ones die suddenly, grief symptoms tend to persist longer. The physical and emotional shock that is a normal part of acute grief appears to be more intense and long-lasting. This may further demoralize you as you are trying to understand what happened to you and to cope with a drastically altered world, in addition to dealing with your feelings of loss and grief. You have the same grief tasks as all mourners, but you must cope with extra stresses that leave you relatively more depleted and disadvantaged.

To be continued on Friday, June 8th, 2012

Taken from Therese A. Rando, How To Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies. New York: Bantam Books, 1991, pp. 90-93

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