Heart Attacks & Grieving a Sudden Loss
Any death is painful for loved ones, but an unexpected death can raise some additional challenges for those coping with grief. An unexpected death can come completely out of the blue for someone who is healthy. It can also happen when someone is ill, but dies sooner than anticipated.
Heart attacks are a very common cause of unexpected deaths – and the shock of losing someone from a heart attack can be incredibly overwhelming.
What to Expect When Grieving a Sudden Loss
Even when a death is expected, it’s hard to truly be prepared for the sense of loss. However, when a heart attack strikes there is no time to prepare, it can feel like you’ve been thrown into a raging sea of emotions without a life jacket. It can be helpful to know that these feelings are normal. Here are a few things to expect:
Shock and disbelief. The most common feelings people experience after a sudden death are shock and disbelief. It may feel like you’re living in a bad dream. This can cause grievers to feel numb and disconnected to their emotions.
Feelings of guilt. It is also common for grievers to feel distraught over things said or not said to the person who has died. These feelings of guilt may also arise because grievers wish they had been able to prevent the death or to have been with the person when they died.
Delayed grief. Because the death is unexpected, it can take some time for your brain to catch up. This can result in delayed grief as your mind takes time to process the events and feel the loss.
Feelings of helplessness. While this can occur with any loss, with a sudden death, the feelings can lead to anger, anxiety, and an inability to make decisions.
How to Cope with a Sudden Loss
When a sudden loss happens as a result of a heart attack, loved ones may be denied the chance to say goodbye. They may also be denied the chance to gradually accept and adjust to the idea that their loved one will someday pass. They will often need additional support to get through the loss.
Here are a few ways to cope during this difficult time:
Honor your loved one. Find or create a way to honor your loved one’s memory. For many people, this takes place at a funeral, but you can honor your loved one in many other ways. Some suggestions include lighting a candle, planting a tree, or sharing stories at a family gathering.
Connect with others. It can be helpful to talk to other family members who are in mourning or to other people who have experienced a similar loss. There are grief support groups that focus specifically on sudden death.
Educate yourself about grief. Symptoms of grief are often misunderstood. While we expect tears in the first days and weeks after a loss, grief can also cause feelings of agitation, anxiety, and frustration many weeks later. These emotions are easier to cope with when you know that what you are feeling is normal.
Speak with a professional. Bereavement counsellors can help people process the complex emotions that come with a sudden death and complicated grief.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides grief recovery groups in all the communities we serve. To speak with a bereavement coordinator in your area, please call 1-888-564-3405.
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