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How to Cope with An Unexpected Death of a Parent, Friend or Family Member

Updated on June 25, 2013

How to Say Goodbye Unexpectedly

We never really are ready to say goodbye. Sometimes there's a diagnosis or a premonition of something that is to come that helps ready us for that final step. Years later, when you can look back with fond memories perhaps you'll understand that you were given a second chance to enjoy the company of your parent (or anyone really).

In my situation it was an initial diagnosis where we were all lucky enough to spend one final holiday, Mother's Day with mom before we had to say goodbye, but the last night happened quicker than a blink of an eye.

How to Stay Strong During the Final Moments

Whatever the situation is, whether it's a sleepless night at the hospital or a telephone call saying that there's been an accident, your emotions are going to be high strung. No matter how much you want to keep face and not break down and cry, understand that in this situation, there is no controlling it. All of the doctors, nurses, friends and family will be able to understand your pain. And it's okay for you to show your parent how much you're going to miss them by crying.

There's a balance between having strength and breaking down that you have to find. You'll find that there is no right or wrong answer and doubtless thoughts will be spinning rampant in your mind. Thoughts of "I'm not ready for this." , "Why is this happening." and many, many more thoughts that you'll wish you could stop.

There's no answer. Some people are able to control their emotions better than others. If you need to, take a a breather, step out and let it out, then go back in and be sure that you don't regret anything later in life. You don't want to find out years later that you didn't handle it like you had wanted to.


How to Deal with "What ifs" and Regrets

After losing your parent or someone who is very close to you, sooner or later your mind is going to go to the place where you start regretting and wishing you do something better than what you actually did: things like not making it to a restaurant that they loved so much, a pair of shoes or shirt that you should have bought for them.

If you're able to, try not to think too much about these thoughts. They only cause you unwarranted pain and sorrow that your loved one would not wish for you to suffer through. If you're unable to stop the thoughts and regrets from surfacing, talking to someone who you trust will help. They will be able to offer words of comfort and help you through this difficult time in your life.

There is nothing wrong with saying what you need to at a gravesite or the funeral. Sometimes just being able to say things that you couldn't where you lay your loved one to rest will provide you the comfort and ability to move on.

Instead of regretting about the past, eventually you'll be able to look back on your friend or family member with fond memories. Having the ability to smile and remember someone you love will give you the strength you need to keep moving forward until the pain lessens.

Comforting Activities that Help Relax You

  • walking, hiking and spending time outside at a lakeside
  • building or working on a long-term project
  • watching a movie you love or reading a book
  • hanging out with friends and remembering the good times
  • enjoying a cup of hot chocolate or tea

How to Sleep After Losing Someone You Love

One of the hardest and most anxious moments for me, was always the nighttime. It was then, when I had nothing to distract myself with, that the thoughts of regret and sadness always crept into my mind. For the first couple of days I couldn't sleep at all. The last moments would replay through my head and the pain would feel as sharp as it did the first night.

Some of the ways I found that helped me were reading a book at night, watching a movie I loved, baking something or snuggling with a pet, listening to music as I fell asleep and talking to someone I loved through a text message, Skype or phone call.

There isn't a short cut to getting over the pain. You may be able to find some temporary relief through drinking, reading or watching a movie, but the only way to heal is to remember the good times, surround yourself with friends and family and try your best to get back into the normal swing of your daily life.

It takes a while, but sometimes all you need is a week to yourself, a vacation and some time to cry and relax. Don't be discouraged if certain movie plot lines or things trigger an emotion reaction to you. Eventually the pain and sorrow does lessen. However, you will likely keep the final moments and painful memories and loss for life.


How to Lessen Reactions to Trigger Events

You may find out that after losing someone you'll be more attuned to noticing certain events or things that you normally wouldn't have otherwise. An example of this is you may start noticing all of the trucks that carry oxygen in your local neighborhood.

Certain movie events like if a son or husband loses their wife may affect you when they normally wouldn't have otherwise. Restaurants and places that you used to visit with the one you've lost will become more empty and strange the first couple of times that you go back to them.

Just remember that it takes time to heal and to be able to move past the pain and loss that you're feeling. You don't need to rush anything or force yourself to be strong or move on right away. Every heals and moves on at different times. Doubtless some will take longer (or less time) than other people who knew the one you've lost.


How to Move on and Start Your Life Again

This is the most difficult part. Eventually, you are going to have to go back to work, to school, to church and meet up with your friends again. It's perfectly normally to dread doing each of these as the "I'm so sorry" face and sentiments can make it harder to deal with the loss.

You may find that you need a little push or help from another family member of friend to bring you outside and want to interact with others again. It's okay to say that you're not ready, but sometimes it's better to just trust the judgment of someone who's opinion and support will help you.

The initial interaction back at work and the sympathy cards will all get easier over time. Take comfort and find whatever happiness you can in the love and support that will be coming your way (some possibly from unexpected circumstances).

Final Thoughts on Losing Someone You Love

I wish there were answers and magic healing buttons that could be used for every person that has to go through losing someone they love. Unfortunately, there is not. Take some time to relax and enjoy some chocolate. Find someone who will listen to you and take comfort in the memories and good times that you had. Remember the one that you love and be happy that they were a part of your life.

It's always going to hurt and there will be times when you miss them so much there is nothing that will bring you comfort. Just take everything day by day, moment by moment and in time you'll be able to smile and laugh again.



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    • Jack Hagan profile image

      Jack Hagan 2 years ago from New York

      Thank you for providing these guidelines. The whole hub is superb and totally informative. Specially the "staying strong at final moments" part is really instructive.

    • noellenichols profile image

      Noelle 4 years ago from Denver

      You are certainly right, Denise. Death, grief and hardships are all obstacles we must overcome by ourselves and must learn to work through them. Luckily there are people who have gone through the same experiences who can give little insights into the healing process. Thank you for the comment and for sharing a part of your story. It's appreciated.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks for the words of comfort. I remember when my brother passed away unexpectedly from an accident and how difficult it was for me as a teenager to watch what happened to my family. I wish I knew then what I know now about death, unfortunately, these things are learned through our sad experience. After we go through them, we are more compassionate to others who loose loved ones.


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