Page 8 - 2017 Autumn-Winter Issue
P. 8

Sudden and Unexpected Loss:

It’s Complicated

by Judith Sullivan

© wittybear/

On December 14, 2001 my 25-year-old daughter, Melissa,      day I began reading a book that shone a light on an aspect
suffered a cardiac arrest followed by a coma. She died      of my grief process that, at the time, I didn’t know I was
fourteen days later. Her doctors concluded that the         confronting. Therese A. Rando, Ph.D., in How to Go on
ultimate cause of her death was due to complications of an  Living When Someone You Love Dies, writes about the
undiagnosed eating disorder. Suddenly and unanticipatedly   distinction between an “anticipated death” and “sudden
Melissa dropped out of our lives.                           death.” She states that if a child’s death is sudden and not
                                                            anticipated loved ones may have more difficulty coping.
I immediately discovered a depth and breadth of searing
emotional pain that left me flattened and disoriented.      Parents are shocked to their core when they get the news
Sometimes, I found myself wanting to shake everyone         of their child’s unanticipated and sudden death. They have
in my world and scream, ‘You can’t believe what has just    been denied the buffer of time that could have helped them
happened!’ I felt like someone who thinks they have just    prepare. One minute their daily life is humming along
seen a UFO and fears that no matter what they say no one    the tracks of familiar routines, then out of nowhere one
will be able to understand. Early on, when my supporters    of the worst things that can happen to anyone strikes. The
turned to me with their eyes full of concern, they also     unexpected death of their child has no context; it doesn’t
wanted to know how to help. The question always went        fit into the life they had before the news. Stunned, they
unanswered because I didn’t have a clue.                    become temporarily frozen in time and deafened to all but
                                                            the terror and panic that is beginning to consume them.
As the days merged into weeks and then months, I learned
much about the world of grief and began to discover some    Clearly, a sudden and unexpected death itself creates
of the ways that bereaved parents survive and eventually    tremendous emotional stress. But that’s only the
thrive. I often found solace in the words of others. One    beginning as the pressure builds to meet the demands and

8 |We Need Not Walk Alone
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