Sudden and abrupt loss - A brief exploration

No matter the circumstances in which we lose a loved one, friend or relative, we are always left with raw and unpredictable feelings and emotions. These emotions throw us off balance and leave us disjointed and alone. We can find ourselves lost in a sea of hurt, pain and confusion, which often seems impossible to escape. Loss and bereavement leaves us with unanswered questions, unresolved feelings and thoughts.

To lose someone in any context, can be a harrowing and shocking experience. We may spend an immeasurable amount of time thinking back to our last conversation, encounter or argument we had with our loved one is crippling, and immensely painful. We ask ourselves all sorts of questions, bargain and do anything to get that person back.

So, what happens to us when we suddenly or abruptly lose someone we love? I aim to explore this question, and look at how sudden loss impacts upon us in various ways, and how our feelings and emotions are compounded and increased when we lose someone with no warning at all. This short article aims to look briefly at three types of sudden and abrupt loss; Accidental, Suicide and Illness.

Loss due to an accident 

Sudden or abrupt death due to an accident is a painful, gut wrenching experience. When there is no one at fault for an accident, or when a freak turn of events lead to the death of a loved one, we can struggle to find a resolution for what happened to us. These sorts of events are unexplainable in terms of feeling. People who experience loss in these circumstances often find themselves feeling shocked and numb, unable to recognise the life they are living as their own. It seems as though you are looking down on your life from above, and watching characters you barely recognise, act out a life and go trough motions, which seem alien to you.

Loss due to suicide

Sudden or abrupt death due to a suicide is a highly complex, and emotional situation to be in. It is incredibly difficult to know how to react or deal with the feelings brought up in us when someone we love takes their own life. We question why our loved one did not speak to us, why did they feel as though they had no more options left? And of course, there is the deep sense of guilt and blame that we add into the already existing grief and sadness. We wonder endlessly what we could have done to prevent this person from taking their own life. We wonder whether had we been there it would have been different. It seems impossible to admit to ourselves that we did all we could. So powerful is that sense of guilt, that it eats away at us, starves us of light, energy and stops us seeing our grief, connecting with it or deciphering the meanings and messages behind how we feel.

Suicide has an enormous amount of connotations and stigma attached to it, and often it is these attachments that people see, feel and experience. There are judgements, negative feelings and thoughts associated with suicide. This is only a short paragraph, and does not attempt to cover in depth the deep impact of suicide on the lives of people close to the deceased, but instead aims to look at how sudden loss impacts us.

Loss due to sudden illness

When someone we know is terminally sick, or elderly, we can in some respects ready ourselves for their passing, tell them we love them, tell them what they mean to us and recognise that we have a limited time left with this person and make the most of it. However, when someone is taken ill suddenly or abruptly, and dies soon after being taken ill, as with a heart attack or sudden illness, we are unprepared, lost, and shocked. In these times of pain, and sadness when we are experiencing loss, there never seems to be enough time to respond, think clearly or process how we feel. The added stresses of being in hospitals and hospices are also deeply traumatic and difficult to cope with. Seeing a loved one go from being full of life, energy and love, to being a shell of their former selves, lacking in colour in their skin, and without response to touch or sound is more painful than anything. Knowing there is nothing we can do to bring them back to how they were before is devastating.

In closing

Nothing on earth can prepare us for the loss of a loved one, and we cannot simply ready ourselves for their passing attempt to reconcile within ourselves the thought that they will not be with us forever. Loss changes us forever, and we will never be the same again.

So, what do we do to begin to find solid ground, begin to discover our own sense of self and begin the long journey to feeling connected to life again after we lose a loved one so abruptly or suddenly? It is important to give yourself time - time to think, time to breathe and time to love yourself. Give space to the memory of your loved one, and recognise that you will sometimes be crippled by grief and emotion, and that on some days you will be ok. It will come in waves, and will not always be as painful as it is now.

Seeing a counsellor can also be a great help. Professionals specialising in bereavement counselling can help you to adjust to a new sense of self and explore areas that may be preventing you from moving on. 

I have only written briefly about a few types of sudden and abrupt loss and know that I have not come close to touching on the vastness of the subject. It was my intention to write about a subject close to my heart.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London N6 & NW5
Written by Joshua Miles, BA, MSc, BPC, BACP Accredited Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
London N6 & NW5

Joshua has worked as a Bereavement Counsellor for over two years and has particular expertise in working with sudden or abrupt loss. He has helped many people work through the pain of their loss. Joshua also has experience of working with a wide range of issues such as loneliness, isolation, depression, relationship difficulties and anxiety.

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