How to cope with grief when you can’t say goodbye

How to cope with grief when you can’t say goodbye

When you experience the death of a loved one, even if it is expected it can leave you feeling stunned. When that death is unexpected, you also have to deal with the shock of the sudden loss.

Whether a death was expected or not, you can feel overwhelmed and your ability to function can be seriously impaired. You may be left feeling extremely bewildered, anxious and life may feel unrecognisable.

Not having a chance to prepare and say goodbye is really difficult to come to terms with. There is no gradual transition, no time to make changes in yourself or your expectations about your life. It might feel like time stopped and there is a strong sense for before and after: how your world was and ‘should’ be and how it is now. A sense of what was left unsaid and undone. The death may continue to feel inexplicable for a long period of time.

You may find yourself looking back at the time leading up to the death and searching for clues that you might have missed. This tendency to reconstruct events in your mind in order to allow it to feel like maybe you were anticipating it, is quite common. This retrospective construction of events makes the situation seem more manageable and retrospectively provides you with some sense of anticipation and preparation. This can become more troublesome if you start to perceive that you might have been responsible for ‘missing something’.

For those who have lost someone suddenly or without being able to say goodbye, grief symptoms can persist for longer. It can make the physical and emotional shock of acute grief symptoms last longer. You can feel a loss of security and confidence in the world because you have had someone snatched away from you without warning.

The impact of any loss can last a lifetime and can change how we think about the world. It can prompt you to make more time for those that are still here. You know that tomorrow is not a guarantee for anyone, especially when you have experienced a sudden death. This can help you keep what is most important to you in mind and something positive can come from tragedy.

What is normal when we are experiencing the unexpected?

  • Strong emotions or feeling numb
  • Needing to move and “do” something
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Yearning and longing
  • Replaying memories
  • Feeling angry, guilt, blame
  • Feeling fear, disorientation, confusion and disbelief
  • Changes to your body rhythms (e.g. sleeping, eating)

How can I cope with this?

We need to give ourselves permission to feel any way we may feel and manage those feelings in a way that feels most appropriate. There is no right and wrong. Express your emotions because it is a normal response. Stay close to those who love and support you and those who let you grieve as you need to. Keep talking to the person who has died as if they are still there. Focus on the basics: eat, drink water, sleep. Talk to us, we will do what we can to support you at Hospiscare.