The period following any death is a difficult time, but a sudden death is particularly devastating for the loved ones of the person who has died. Those grieving find their lives have changed greatly, with no warning, and often little preparation. All deaths have an impact, but a sudden death brings its own unique set of issues.
Dying Matters Awareness Week 2017 focuses on the theme ‘What can you do?’. We are encouraging people to offer their support to people who have been bereaved – relatives, friends and colleagues – by helping them in practical ways and listening to them when they are ready to talk.
So… What can you do?
Everyone grieves differently; however, it is more common after a sudden bereavement for a person to experience intense grief and more extreme emotions, due to the lack of warning.
If you know someone who has been suddenly bereaved, be aware that they may feel scared, vulnerable and angry, but they will also need support. You could support them in practical ways, by offering a lift, helping them around the house, doing their shopping or cooking, or offer to spend time with them in a place where they feel safe and comfortable.
You could also support someone who has been suddenly bereaved by listening to them talk about their bereavement. Remember that you can never understand what the person is going through, and acknowledge that they may not wish to talk straight away. Allow them space and time to talk when they are ready.
Many people feel as though they don’t know what to say, or worry that they may say the wrong thing. It is better to say “I don’t know what to say,” than to say nothing at all.
Talking to children about death may be more difficult, particularly if they are young. They may have extreme reactions and feel frightened and confused about the situation. It is important that you are as open and honest as possible, and explain to them that what they are feeling is normal.
When people are ready to talk about their feelings and experiences, or need extra support, bereavement counselling can be a huge help. Organisations that offer this service include Cruse Bereavement Care, Winston’s Wish (for bereaved children) and Widowed and Young (WAY – a service for those who are bereaved and under 50).
In 2016, the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) launched Compassionate Employers. This scheme provides practical resources to help companies and organisations to gain a better understanding of the long-lasting effects of bereavement on productivity, morale and absenteeism, and to learn how to introduce policies and good practice to support a bereaved person in the workplace.
If you are offering help to a friend, relative or colleague who has been bereaved, please keep talking to them and offering support. Some people may not feel comfortable saying yes immediately, or – particularly in the case of sudden death – may feel disoriented and need time to adjust to their change in circumstances.
Dying Matters aims to help people to feel more comfortable talking openly about death, dying and bereavement. To find out more, visit www.dyingmatters.org.
Dying Matters Awareness Week
8–14 May 2017
To find out more about Dying Matters Awareness Week, including details of events taking place in your area, please visit the Dying Matters website.
Dealing with sudden or violent death: http://www.dyingmatters.org/page/dealing-sudden-or-violent-death
Compassionate Employers: http://compassionateemployers.org.uk/
Find Me Help: http://help.dyingmatters.org/
About the author
Stephanie Owens is communications and marketing officer at the Dying Matters Coalition, and National Council for Palliative Care. Stephanie has worked in communications for healthcare charities for a number of years, and feels strongly about raising awareness of the importance of conversation around death and dying.
Losing a loved one at any age is incredibly difficult, and the sudden death of a partner at a young age can be particularly challenging. In this blog, Widowed & Young chairman Georgia Elms talks about the support that the charity was able to offer her following the sudden death of her husband.
Georgia Elms’ life was turned upside down when her husband Jon died suddenly from meningitis, at the age of just 38.
“Jon went to bed feeling unwell, and woke in the middle of the night a lot worse, so I rang for an ambulance – but by morning he’d died,” says Georgia. “It was two weeks after our daughter Daisy’s first birthday. And the day after his death, I found out I was pregnant with our second child.”
Although Georgia was surrounded by friends and family, she felt utterly alone.
“I didn’t know anyone else who was in my situation. Nobody around me understood what I was going through,” she says. “I just needed to meet other people and talk to other people who’d been widowed at a young age. I needed to have reassurance that the things I was feeling were normal.”
For Georgia, the charity WAY (Widowed & Young) offered a lifeline – linking her up with other men and women who had been widowed at a young age, and who understood exactly what she was going through.
“Just talking to people who had been widowed and were further down the line than me made me feel better,” she recalls.
With a young daughter to look after and a second baby on the way, Georgia turned to WAY’s online forums in the evenings for company and support, reading posts from other people and realising that she was not alone in her grief. Through WAY, Georgia was able to link up with other women who had also been widowed while they were pregnant.
Eventually, she plucked up the courage to organise a get together for local members in Nottingham, and over the next few years she developed a new social circle through WAY.
“We went out for a meal, – then met up once a month after that. When my daughters were a bit older, I started going on some of the organised WAY holidays,” she says.
“My children love their new WAY ‘family’ and always look forward to meeting their WAY friends who allow them to feel normal,” says Georgia, who has been chairman of the charity since 2011.
Finding a way forward
WAY turns 20 this year and has more than 2,300 members across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. For many widowed men and women, the lively social groups that meet up throughout the year – for drinks, meals out, walks and picnics – offer the chance to build up a new social life in the aftermath of bereavement. In the last year alone, WAY members have been walking in the Lake District, caravanning in Dorset, camping in Derbyshire and skiing in France over the New Year.
WAY also has a well-used members-only website, with a secure online forum that allows members across the country to post their comments in a safe environment, where others can offer advice and mutual support. Members also have access to a 24-hour confidential telephone helpline, which provides access to counselling and advice.
WAY is often described as a club that nobody wants to join. But the sad reality is that around 80,000 men and women in the UK are widowed under the age of 51 and could benefit so much from WAY’s peer-to-peer support.
Visit our website at www.widowedandyoung.org.uk to find out more about WAY.
Follow WAY on Twitter @WidowedAndYoung
Or on Instagram @widowedandyoung
Find WAY on Facebook at facebook.com/WAYwidowedandyoung
About the author
Vicky Anning has over a decade of experience in charity communications, and is currently Communications Manager at the support charity Widowed & Young (WAY). Prior to her position at WAY, Vicky also has worked on projects for UNICEF, international NGO Camfed and the Catholic international development charity CAFOD. Alongside holding various positions in the third sector, Vicky also has experience in journalism and working as a book editor.