It can be extremely distressing when somebody dies suddenly, given rise to feelings of anger, sadness and disbelief. In particular, feeling that you did not have the opportunity to say goodbye can be hard to accept. This can leave you struggling to manage everyday tasks and activities. You may feel that no one understands what you are going through, significant sudden death can be a life changing experience and can make you fearful for your plans and hopes for the future. Trauma can also have physical affects, disruption eating and sleeping and causing headaches and stomach pains.


  • Draw on your family and friends for support
  • Listen to what your body is telling you
  • Try to maintain your usual diet and exercise routine
  • Seek help if you are not sleeping
  • Look for agencies or charities that can support you
  • Seek specialist help from your GP if you are still experiencing disruption to your general functioning after several months

Witnessing the death

If you witnessed the death, it is normal to experience a range of intense emotions and feelings for some time after the incident. It is possible to become preoccupied by invasive images and thoughts following a sudden or traumatic bereavement. Such thoughts may occur spontaneously, in a distorted form or manifest through dreams. They may be triggered by any reminder of the loss (e.g. certain noises or images). The intensity of your feelings or thoughts can sometimes be eased by talking to others over an extended period of time. Images will not necessarily cease, but they should become less painful and disturbing. If the images continue for several months and are stopping you from getting on with your life, then you should speak to your GP. They will, if needed, refer you to specialist services (e.g. psychologists specialising in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) if needed.

Managing emotions

Grief is the natural response to death, regardless of the circumstances. Grieving may be more difficult or ‘complex’ if feelings are not expressed. Some people need to cry, others will become angry or experience feelings of blame or guilt. Try to find someone you can trust whom it is possible to confide in.

Memories of the deceased individual(s) will not disappear, but painful thoughts should become easier to navigate over time. Similarly, it is important to seek professional help if you feel yourself becoming frequently disabled by distressing intrusive thoughts or images. Grief can continue much longer than most people or ‘society’ expect.

Some people find that mediation, mindfulness or walking can be helpful in managing the effects of trauma. Spending time alone can be calming and provide time to reflect but be cautious about becoming isolated from your usual network and social circles.

The Grief Encounter helpline, grieftalk can be contacted from 9am – 9pm Monday to Friday. The grieftalk helpline number is 0808 802 0111, or you can chat online or even email us now, we are here to listen.