The Day After: What to Really Expect with Sudden Death or Suicide

Posted by on May 19, 2015 in grief, healing, loss, self-healing, truth | 2 comments

Lonely Souls - Unkle


(5+ minute read)
Lyrics from a song called “Lonely Souls” by Unkle, played on repeat in my mind after I listened to the voice mail from my mother, telling me that my sister had died. Almost 10 years have passed since that day.  Now, I want to help shine some light on this dark and often unspoken subject – the sudden death of a loved one, and what to expect.

My sister was 25 years old, and a mother of two girls, her youngest daughter only 6 weeks old.  She collapsed in her driveway, and she was taken from us.  Sudden heart failure.  The coroner never could 100% determine the actual cause.  One minute, she was unloading groceries from her van, the next she was gone. My mother was with her at the hospital, when her soul made the final cross over. It was a few days before Thanksgiving.

My brother-in-law, a guy with the biggest heart and laugh, who was the light in so many lives, decided it was time to turn his off.  He suffered from depression, and couldn’t find a way out of the dark.  He committed suicide on the night of Easter, after a day of family gathering.  His father was the one that found him.  I don’t think his soul will ever forget the moment of finding his son’s body without it’s own.

The call came.  Then the sitting came.  You can’t stand up when you get this kind of call. The gravity of Earth becomes the weight of a 1000 tons, and your body instantly drops.  I think this is why the question, “Are you sitting down?”, became the MO when this is on the other end of the phone line.

They both passed away within 6 months of each other.

What happens the day of the sudden loss – shock and intense pain.  Everything looks and sounds surreal.

So much occurs in the days, months, and years after.  I saw, and felt, so many levels of grief, pain, and sadness. I listened to people scream, or sob in a way that can only be described as soul deep. Others cried silently with tears streaming, while trying to sniffle quietly. Stories were told of the great, the humorous, and the not so good.  I witnessed family members and close friends asking “Why?” with so much raw emotion, struggling to understand.

The feelings of pain and grief seemed to be the same level for sudden death and suicide. The only thing that changed was how people chose to place their blame. Suicide seemed to result in people either blaming themselves – for not enough presence, words, love, encouragement, and strength; or blaming the person that is now gone – the most common thing witnessed is hearing the descriptive word of selfish.  Often times, people will even bounce between both of these emotional places. Sudden death seemed to result in either people blaming themselves for not instinctively knowing something was wrong, and echos of the words unsaid before the person passed; or they blamed outside circumstances, such as God, the Universe, or conventional medicine for failing to bring the person back.

The following list is what I personally experienced, and observed. I’m sharing it so that I can hopefully help others who find themselves in this space and place.  Please remember, that even while right now feels awful and terrible, almost like your heart is being wrenched from your chest – it does eventually get better.

What happens in the days after:

  • Time becomes elastic by either slowing down drastically, or seeming like it’s on fast forward.
  • A level of heart pain to the point where the very act of breathing is difficult.
  • Shedding an amount of tears difficult to believe a single human can produce.
  • Periods of complete numbness and silence.
  • Your knees will buckle when seeing the body of the person for the first time, while thinking that they look different; and while watching their casket enter into the ground.
  • Secretly thinking they are going to wake up, taking that life-giving inhale of breath, all the way up until the casket is closed. The echoing sound of the casket closing, reverberating throughout the room, and in the hearts of the living.
  • The realization that the world truly does keep going.  I found myself watching people, wondering how it was possible for me to feel this kind of pain, while the rest of the world was completely oblivious.  The shopping, the work, the school – it doesn’t stop. 
  • Hearing how many different ways the question, “Why?” can be expressed.
  • Holidays fluctuate between the pain of the empty space in the room, and the joy of recalling good memories.
  • Heart pain never really leaves, however it does start to fade over time, and triggers will hit when least expected.
  • Their face, and their laugh, is never forgotten, but the sound of their voice can be. Save whatever recording has it, be it a voice mail, videos, etc. It will help keep that memory.
  • I eventually learned to hide my silence when others would rejoice, joke, or complain about their siblings who are alive.  I found that quietly walking away worked best for me.
  • I cannot watch a scene in a tv show or a movie that displays the form of suicide that took my brother-in-law. I have to close my eyes, and look away.  Every time.
  • After a lot of reflection, acceptance, and self-healing, people were able to understand that there was nothing they could have done.  Including myself.
  • Over time, I learned how to tell the story about their death, with minimal tears.
  • Learning to say the sentence, “I’d rather not discuss it.”, and knowing that it’s okay.

A big issue in the beginning for me was the look of pity from others. For some reason, it is not easy to handle.  The only people that could truly offer sympathy were the ones who had survived a similar tragedy.  Others simply couldn’t understand, and they tried to offer up what they could give.

People are able to find acceptance at some point.  I’ve read that there is a place of peace, and I hope some of us have reached it.  In my experience with this dark walk – I found that my steps were heavy at first, and slowly they began to lighten with each new day.  You will find yourself counting the days, then weeks, to where eventually you’ll realize it’s been several years since they passed away.  It will shock you at first, and you may feel guilt for not realizing so much time has passed.  When this happens – understand that this is a phase of the healing process. I sincerely hope that by reading this, you will find solace in the knowledge that everything you are feeling right here, right now, WILL pass. Time does heal, it just does it in different ways for each person.  It is never easy, and being kind to yourself is more important then ever.

If you’ve experienced a tragic sudden loss of a loved one, please consider leaving a comment of what happened in your days after.  It may bring some peace to another person who may be reading this as well.

As always, remember – you are not alone.
Blessings to you,

Heather Durling, The Phoenix Gathering
“One Starfish At a Time.”
Proud Member of ‪#‎WUVIP‬

Copyright 2015 The Phoenix Gathering. All Rights Reserved.




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