Loss and Grief - Unexpected Death

Family Caregiving September 23, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

When death occurs unexpectedly, survivors are typically in a state of shock. It’s later that they begin to feel the full impact of the loss. At this time, any expression of grief is important. Initially, listening is probably the greatest gift you can give your friend. Let her know that she and her feelings are important to you and that you’re willing to be there for her in whatever way she needs you. Do not hesitate to speak her husband’s or special person’s name or to talk about the person. Let her know how much the person meant to you and to others. It will be meaningful for you to share your memories of the person with her.

If you feel it’s appropriate, ask how you might help organize activities related to the funeral. It’s best to avoid offering advice. Instead, guide her gently or serve as a sounding board as she makes decisions. You might help with activities such as:

  • Contacting your friend’s spiritual leader.
  • Notifying extended family, friends, or business associates of the death and funeral arrangements.
  • Arranging overnight stays for guests; deciding who will meet those arriving at the airport.
  • Listing tasks: errands to be run, purchases to be made, phone calls to be made.
  • Preparing and/or coordinating food for guests.

You may wish to help organize a system for keeping track of acts of kindness from family and friends. Note who brought food and flowers. Keep track of phone calls with expressions of grief. Organize cards. As the pace picks up, join with others in following through on planned activities.

The weeks and months to come will likely be very lonely and demanding. Your friendship can help significantly as your friend copes during this difficult time.

For more information see:

  • Is There Anything I Can Do? Helping a Friend When Times are Tough (1994) by Sol Gordon

Adapted with permission from GriefWorks, Sam Quick, Professor Emeritus, Human Development and Family Relations Specialist, Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.