Grief Following A Sudden Or Traumatic Death

A person who experiences sudden bereavement because of the traumatic death of a loved one typically faces powerful emotional and even physical responses. Every individual is unique and may display some, all, or even none of the various responses oftentimes attributed to sudden bereavement.

Immediate Responses

The first response after a sudden or traumatic death is likely to be shock. Symptoms may include an inability to speak, move, or talk. A person may also scream. Physical responses may include:

  • General pain
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Exhaustion

After the initial stage of shock, the suddenly bereaved person will go through the five stages of grief developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.

The Kubler-Ross stages of grief are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Longer-term Responses

A sudden or traumatic death can result in long term responses not necessarily contemplated by the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. Indeed, because of the nature of a traumatic death like a homicide or suicide, an individual may be unable to progress through the stages of grief without some sort of supportive assistance or professional intervention.

Post traumatic stress disorder represents a frequent condition suffered by a person dealing with sudden bereavement. There are multiple resources for people suffering from PTSD as a result of the traumatic death of a loved one.

The Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health provides a myriad of resources, and referral capabilities, for a person who lost a loved one through a sudden or traumatic death.

The resources and programs offered via the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health that can be invaluable to a person coping with the sudden or traumatic death of a loved one include:

  • Individual therapy or counseling
  • Group therapy
  • Psychiatric assistance (including medication)
  • Substance abuse treatment (including referrals to inpatient and outpatient rehab programs)
  • Inpatient mental health referrals
  • Specialized individual and group therapy for PTSD

The Orange County Healthcare Agency, through its behavioral health services, provides similar resources.

A resource that can assist in finding a suitable Southern California support group for a person dealing with the homicide of a loved one is:

Victim Support
3655 S Grand Ave # 290
Los Angeles, CA 90007-4377
(213) 747-4944

Finally, the National Center for Victims of Crime is a ubiquitous resource for victims of many types of crimes, including individuals who lost loved ones through homicide:

National Center for Victims of Crime

2000 M Street NW
Suite 480
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 467-8700

www.ncvc.org for overall programming and www.victimconnect.org to connect victims with supportive resources.

Grief Following the Suicide of a Loved One

The grieving process following the suicide of a loved one is unique and requires special consideration. The loss of a family member or friend by suicide oftentimes is unexpected, shocking, and profoundly painful. 

Each time a person takes his or her life, survivors are left behind to face a complex, intense, and potentially long-term grieving process.

Essential Facts About Suicide in California and the United States

In the United States, there are over 41,000 suicides annually. The suicide rate in California is slightly lower than the national average. With that said, a study by UCLA researchers revealed that 2.4 million adults in the state have seriously considered taking their own lives. Research also suggests that in the aftermath of a person taking his or her own life, at least six survivors of suicide are left behind.

Common Emotions Following a Suicide of a Loved One

In some cases, a suicide survivor is shocked to learn a loved one took his or her life. In other instances, a survivor had known that a person had been struggling with depression or other issues and concludes in retrospect that some signs existed about suicidal ideation.

In either situation, an array of motions commonly is experienced by a suicide survivor. Identifying each of these potential emotions is necessary so that you understand your experience is not unusual. These emotions include:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Pain
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Shame
  • Despair
  • Disbelief
  • Hopelessness
  • Stress    
  • Sadness
  • Numbness 
  • Rejection
  • Loneliness
  • Abandonment
  • Confusion 
  • Self-blame 
  • Helplessness   
  • Depression
  • Anxiety


The Grieving Process Following a Suicide of a Loved One

The grieving process following the suicide of a loved one is unique. While some coping strategies are akin to what is effective after other types of losses, there are some tactics to consider after the suicide of a family member or friend.

Don’t Isolate – Keep Connected

Oftentimes, a suicide survivor isolate themselves. This particularly is the case when the suicide victim is a family member. Many survivors end up feeling shame for what occurred. The shame that accompanies a loved one’s suicide is not typically found in the aftermath of other traumatic deaths.

A key strategy to lessen this sense of shame is to avoid isolating and keep connected with others. Surround yourself with people you trust, who will listen, and with whom you are comfortable sharing.

Grieve in Your Own Way

As was stated previously, grieve in your own way. For example, after a suicide, you may be angry with the loved one who took his or her life. For example, you may not want to visit his or her gravesite because of your emotions. Don’t make matters worse by forcing yourself to do something you’re not emotionally prepared to do. Don’t grieve based on anyone else’s expectations either.

Anticipate Setbacks

Grieving is not a linear process. There will be days when you feel like you’ve made progress toward healing and others when you feel like you’ve slipped backwards. Keep in mind that this is natural.

Consider a Support Group

You do not have to grieve alone. There are support groups specifically designed for people who are grieving and coming to terms from the suicide of a loved one. Suicide support groups serving Los Angeles, and Southern California, include:

Survivors After Suicide
Suicide Prevention Center
DIDI Hirsch Community Mental Health Center
Culver City, CA
Contact Person: Rick Mogil
(310) 895-2326
24-hour hotline: (310) 391-1253
Meetings per month: 8-week series
Serves Los Angeles, San Fernando Valley, West Los Angeles, South Bay, San Gabriel Valley and Montrose

Survivors After Suicide
2001 S. Barrington Avenue, #202
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Contact Person: Terry Jordan, LCSW
(310) 859-2241

www.psychotherapyinla.com
[email protected]
Meetings per month: please contact for details.

Loss of a Child to Suicide
2001 S. Barrington Ave, #202
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Contact Person: Terry Jordan, LCSW
(301) 859-2241
[email protected]
Meetings per month: 8 sessions

The American Society of Suicidology, at http://www.suicidology.org/, provides an array of resources that can be of great assistance to you in the aftermath of the suicide of a loved one. These resources include everything from written materials, contacts for other support organizations, and telephone hotlines. The organization has a Survivors of Suicide Kit that you can obtain at no charge via the website.