Friday, June 8, 2012

Coping with Sudden Death.. Part 3 of 3

~ By Therese Rando, Ph.D. ~ Continued from Part 2 on Wednesday, June 6, 2012

If you have lost a loved one from sudden death, you know that you had no chance to say good-bye and no opportunity to finish unfinished business with your loved one. Most probably these are major issues for you. The lack of time to bring this important relationship to a positive close causes much anguish to those of us whose loved ones die without warning. We wish that we could have known in order to say and do what we wanted to; we wish we could have just one more brief moment with our loved one to tell him we loved him, apologize for ways we might have hurt him, explain why we treated him the way we did, or let him know what he meant to us.

You may feel a profound loss of security and confidence in the world. After all, you have been taught a dramatic lesson: Loved ones can be snatched away without warning. You may always await another loss to befall. Research has shown that widows whose husbands died suddenly are slower to move toward remarriage, since they are unwilling to risk future unanticipated loss again for themselves and their children. Avoidance and anxiety eventually can lead to states of anxious withdrawal since the world has become such a frightening, unpredictable place.

In some ways. the consequences of losing a loved one to sudden death can last a lifetime. While for some mourners this can be evidenced in chronic grief or persistent anxiety in which security and confidence never totally return, for others the consequences ate less dramatic, though no less powerful. The best example I can give of this is a personal one. All of the deaths in my husband’s life have been anticipated deaths. When I am a little late returning from work my husband automatically assumes that I have been held up on the telephone or have run overtime with my patients. Unless I am dramatically late, he is not unduly disturbed and assumes I will be home soon.

In contrast, I have a much different response when he is later than expected. This is because all of the important deaths in my life have been sudden, unexpected ones. As a consequence when he is later than usual I automatically assume that something terrible has happened. I experience a considerable amount of apprehension. What makes me different from someone who has not worked so hard on these issues is that I will not immediately jump to call the hospitals or the police. I will remind myself that statistically the chances are that he all right and that there are reasons for his delay. Nevertheless, I am concerned.
Does this mean that I love my husband more than he loves me because I am more concerned when he is late? I think not. What it reveals is the scars of sudden death. I have been taught all too well that the people I love can be snatched from me without warning, and that death doesn’t always happen to someone else.

This awareness that you can lose someone without warning does not have to be negative. It can prompt you to deal with your loved ones on a timely basis. It can help you not to put off until tomorrow those things you should say and do today. It may assist you in making sure you don’t have too much unfinished business with the people you lose.

If your loved one died from a sudden death, you know that tomorrow is promised to no one. This awareness also can help you keep in mind what is important in life, so you don’t get lost in trivial matters and lose sight of those things that are most important to you. It is an ironic but positive consequence of sudden death that it can make you appreciate life more than you ever would have if you had not undergone such a traumatic experience. This does not mean that you would seek out such a loss in order to teach yourself such a lesson, but it does let you know that you can pull something meaningful out of such a tragedy.

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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