No Time for Goodbye: Sudden versus Expected Deaths | Ashley Kochenour

Though universally experienced, death is perhaps one of the most foreign of human experiences. Not because it is a stranger to us, but because of how strange it is. Forever is not a time period we can comprehend, but somehow we never imagine a future without those close to us. This is why death is strange, it is a reality that everyone will experience, but it is one that very few consider or anticipate. It doesn’t seem to be real until it happens. The stark reality is that people die all the time and it can be devastating for those close to them. Whether it is a parent, grandparent, sibling, or friend the pain cuts deep and can seem to leave a hollow spot where that person once resided. Even if there is warning, dealing with this kind of loss is very difficult, but it becomes even more difficult if there is not time to prepare.

I know how shattering an unexpected loss can be. I lost my father very suddenly when I was young. One day he was living and happy, and the next he was gone. It was a crippling shock, and for a long time I thought it would have been easier if I had known in advance, if his cause of death were cancer or something that I could have had time to prepare for. I thought I had it worse than people whose loved ones died of illnesses, and I even believed that they did not have the right to grieve as deeply as I did. However, I have come to learn this is not the case. One of my close friends, Nate, has also experienced some losses and has seen how different circumstances can have very different effects on the same family.

Nate lost two loved ones in high school, his grandfather and his cousin. Nate and his family went to see their cousin’s wedding in July of 2010. It was a beautiful wedding on a beach in Florida with a lot of laughter and joy. While still on their honeymoon the cousin’s new bride awoke to find him lying dead next to her. In comparing the loss of Nate’s cousin to his grandfather, Nate told me, “When my granddad died there was time to grapple with the idea of him not being around anymore, with [my cousin], it was just instantaneous. There was no time to ease the mind around the concept of this person’s death, it came all at once.”

When you expect a loved one’s death it is like taking a severe beating in a boxing match, it’s very painful but it’s also something you’re prepared for. For those closest to Nate’s cousin, especially his spouse, parents, and sister, it was more like a bullet in the heart. It takes much longer to put oneself together after a death that you did not have time to prepare for.

The loss of Nate’s grandfather was a very different matter. His granddad was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of melanoma cancer and was given just a few months to live, but he endured for two years before succumbing.

During this time, even distant relatives had time to come and visit before he passed away. There was time to prepare and accept the probability of his death. Nate told me, “Everyone was grief stricken when he passed away, but this was something everyone knew was coming and we had some time to prepare for it. So while we still get emotional when we talk about him, it is because we have fond memories of a man who is sorely missed rather than pain from an open wound”.

Though this sort of pain is very different, it is equally deep. The biggest difference between the two is that, if you take the opportunity, you can get an early start on the grieving process. You can begin grieving a loss before it is gone, but you still grieve just as deeply.

It goes without saying that in the majority of cases, a loss by suicide is considered a sudden loss. Many people do not recognize the warning signs until a loss has already happened. Allow me to comfort you for a moment in reminding you that death strikes all of us deeply and profoundly regardless of the method of death, and even though the loss of a loved one may feel so alien to you, I assure you that death and grief is something that every person in this world experiences. You are not alone in your incomprehensible grief.

Allow me to also validate that a loss to suicide is very different from any other form of death. A popular suicide prevention slogan reads, “Suicide is 100% preventable”, and “Suicide is the most preventable form of death.” While these words may be true on paper, the reality is that we cannot hold ourselves responsible for the actions of others, only the actions of ourselves. With a loss to suicide usually comes feelings of guilt and shame, which are then compounded by stigma.

Here’s the reality: Death is a terrible thing, regardless of how it comes. Suicide is a unique death and has a higher complexity of emotional waves than a car accident or cancer diagnosis.

However, despite the method of death – whether sudden or expected – the ways to grieve are very similar. Everyone grieves differently, but the types of coping mechanisms for grief do not change based on how fast someone passed.

Here are a few myths and facts about grief provided by the Center for Grief and Healing:

MYTH: The pain will go away faster if you ignore it.

Fact: Trying to ignore your pain or keep it from surfacing will only make it worse in the long run. For real healing it is necessary to face your grief and actively deal with it.

MYTH: It’s important to be “be strong” in the face of loss.

Fact: Feeling sad, frightened, or lonely is a normal reaction to loss. Crying doesn’t mean you are weak. You don’t need to “protect” your family or friends by putting on a brave front. Showing your true feelings can help them and you.

MYTH: If you don’t cry, it means you aren’t sorry about the loss.

Fact: Crying is a normal response to sadness, but it’s not the only one. Those who don’t cry may feel the pain just as deeply as others. They may simply have other ways of showing it.

MYTH: Grief should last about a year.

Fact: There is no right or wrong time frame for grieving. How long it takes can differ from person to person.

For more information about grief and healing, along with support group information and ways to cope, visit some of these excellent websites:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Survivor Outreach

Survivors of Suicide Loss

American Association of Suicidology Suicide Loss Survivors

Reader, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one – regardless of the method of death – allow us at Please Live to extend our deepest condolences. We hope that this blog post has helped in some way to validate your feelings and give you more information on how to cope.

And as always, feel free to contact us at at any time if there is anything we can do to help you in your grief.