The period following any death is a difficult time, but a sudden death is particularly devastating for the loved ones of the person who has died. Those grieving find their lives have changed greatly, with no warning, and often little preparation. All deaths have an impact, but a sudden death brings its own unique set of issues.
Dying Matters Awareness Week 2017 focuses on the theme ‘What can you do?’. We are encouraging people to offer their support to people who have been bereaved – relatives, friends and colleagues – by helping them in practical ways and listening to them when they are ready to talk.
So… What can you do?
Everyone grieves differently; however, it is more common after a sudden bereavement for a person to experience intense grief and more extreme emotions, due to the lack of warning.
If you know someone who has been suddenly bereaved, be aware that they may feel scared, vulnerable and angry, but they will also need support. You could support them in practical ways, by offering a lift, helping them around the house, doing their shopping or cooking, or offer to spend time with them in a place where they feel safe and comfortable.
You could also support someone who has been suddenly bereaved by listening to them talk about their bereavement. Remember that you can never understand what the person is going through, and acknowledge that they may not wish to talk straight away. Allow them space and time to talk when they are ready.
Many people feel as though they don’t know what to say, or worry that they may say the wrong thing. It is better to say “I don’t know what to say,” than to say nothing at all.
Talking to children about death may be more difficult, particularly if they are young. They may have extreme reactions and feel frightened and confused about the situation. It is important that you are as open and honest as possible, and explain to them that what they are feeling is normal.
When people are ready to talk about their feelings and experiences, or need extra support, bereavement counselling can be a huge help. Organisations that offer this service include Cruse Bereavement Care, Winston's Wish (for bereaved children) and Widowed and Young (WAY – a service for those who are bereaved and under 50).
In 2016, the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) launched Compassionate Employers. This scheme provides practical resources to help companies and organisations to gain a better understanding of the long-lasting effects of bereavement on productivity, morale and absenteeism, and to learn how to introduce policies and good practice to support a bereaved person in the workplace.
If you are offering help to a friend, relative or colleague who has been bereaved, please keep talking to them and offering support. Some people may not feel comfortable saying yes immediately, or – particularly in the case of sudden death – may feel disoriented and need time to adjust to their change in circumstances.
Dying Matters aims to help people to feel more comfortable talking openly about death, dying and bereavement. To find out more, visit www.dyingmatters.org.
Dying Matters Awareness Week
8–14 May 2017
To find out more about Dying Matters Awareness Week, including details of events taking place in your area, please visit the Dying Matters website.
Dealing with sudden or violent death: http://www.dyingmatters.org/page/dealing-sudden-or-violent-death
About the author:
Stephanie Owens is communications and marketing officer at the Dying Matters Coalition, and National Council for Palliative Care. Stephanie has worked in communications for healthcare charities for a number of years, and feels strongly about raising awareness of the importance of conversation around death and dying.