How to cope with sudden bereavement

By Lianna Champ,
updated on Oct 28, 2021

How to cope with sudden bereavement

Sudden bereavement can feel overwhelming and scary, here we share tips for guiding yourself through the first steps

When we are affected by the sudden loss of someone significant in our lives, we are faced with the past, the present and the future all at once. Time seems to stand still and our whole relationship with that person flashes before our eyes in an instant and we think of all the things that we should or shouldn’t have said or done and also all the lost opportunities of the past and the future.

Grief is personal

Whatever you experience when you suffer loss is your normal and natural reaction. Don’t question your initial reaction. Grief is incredibly personal and no two people will react to the same loss in exactly the same way. Try not to compare your feelings with others. Allow your feelings to wash over you.

Talking is a release

It can feel so awkward to start a conversation around the things that really affect us on a deep emotional level. We seem to be terrified of the very thought and this can stem from years of withholding our innermost feelings. But it is only by talking about how the sudden death has made us feel that we can begin to unravel the emotional confusion that always comes with loss.

Guilt or regret?

When we lose someone suddenly, we can focus on the things we wish we could change and can beat ourselves up with guilt. Guilt follows a deliberate wrongdoing, an action or words that we know was not the right thing to do or say at that particular time. Regret is a wish that something could have been done or said in a better way than it had been, had we known what was going to happen. We see the action or words in a different light. If we had known the outcome, we would have acted differently – instead we acted in innocence. Guilt holds us in a place of pain, therefore it is vital that we really understand the difference between guilt and regret.


To protect ourselves from being overwhelmed, nature can switch us to autopilot which enables us to function and deal with the initial practicalities following a death. The automatic coping defences that kick in instinctively, however, are not always the right ones for us, but we do not know what else to do. This can lull us into the belief that we are coping well. We tend to keep hold of these coping mechanisms, not really making a conscious decision on how well we are doing and whether or not we should be doing something different. So, it is valuable for our recovery to recognise if we have created negative coping mechanisms to block out or reduce our painful feelings. Signs include overindulging in alcohol, unhealthy food, smoking more or starting again after giving up, etc. Once we understand why we are doing these things, we can take back control.

  • Be wary of short term relievers such as alcohol, junk food and drugs.
  • Accept your feelings and acknowledge your pain. Whatever you are feeling is normal and right for you.
  • Listen to your body – rest when you need it, and make sure you eat.
  • Talk about your loss with those you love.
  • Trust your instincts and don’t let others railroad into doing things you don’t feel ready for.
  • Find someone you can talk to and share with honesty.
  • When you have your moments of happiness, don’t feel guilty. There will be times when you get caught up in the act of living in the present moment. Then you will remember again and you will return to grieving. This is healthy and normal.

Be kind to yourself and don’t expect too much too soon, you are not a robot. Working through grief takes time so focus on the process, the journey rather than the destination. Allow yourself the luxury of feeling your pain and grieving. Just as we laugh when we are happy, we need to allow ourselves to hurt through our loss. It is only through allowing it to wash over us that we come through to the other side.

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, 'How to Grieve Like A Champ'

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By Lianna Champ

Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, 'How to Grieve Like A Champ'.

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