15 Ways to Cope When Someone Suddenly Dies

The souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them. They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace. For if to others, indeed, they seem punished, yet is their hope full of immortality; Chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself. In the time of their judgment they shall shine and dart about as sparks through stubble; They shall judge nations and rule over peoples, and the LORD shall be their King forever. Those who trust in him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with the elect. Wisdom 3:1-9

15 Ways to Cope 

I’ll never forget the ride home from gymnastics one evening when I was in fifth grade. My dad drove silently, which was not unusual. He was always the pensive man, in my opinion. It wasn’t until he spoke of my grandpa’s passing that I realized why the ride had been so silent to that point. Born in 1907, my grandpa had lived a wonderfully full life as a farmer in East Texas. I remember spending time on the farm as a kid, playing with the dogs outside, riding the propane tank like a horse, and finding ways to keep myself busy. I always told my grandpa he had “speckled eyes” because they were this crazy mixture of blue and yellow – I kid you not! He was from the older generation that believed that children to be seen and not heard, but I always felt his love just being in his presence. 

He succumbed to liver cancer on October 18, 1987 – 10 days before his 80th birthday. As a kid, I didn’t recall many of the details that led to his death. I do remember growing up in a time when children were generally shielded from adult details. To me, it was like he was there one day and then the next he was gone. He wasn’t one to go to the doctor for nonsense issues {something typical of the men of his day}, so I could only speculate that he went to a doctor when things were past the point of no return. 

There is something unspeakably sobering about someone suddenly dying, whether they are an acquaintance, a co-worker, friend, or beloved family member. Nothing can prepare you for that feeling of the rug being yanked out from under you. Instantly, the tug between the head and the heart begins. The fragility of life comes into play. You can start to question your own mortality and examine and reexamine your relationships with loved ones. As Catholics, we are taught to live our lives ready to meet Christ at any moment and with that, death is not necessarily something to be feared, but is a passage into the next life. However, very little prepares us when the life of someone we know is taken abruptly. I asked some friends who have been down this painfully difficult road to help me compile a list of ways that might be helpful in coping with sudden loss and things they needed from others while grieving. These friends suffered loss through miscarriage and infant loss. One lost her brother after he collapsed and never regained consciousness again, and another friend witnessed her uncle die despite EMS attempts to resuscitate him. 



  • Don’t forget to pray. It is in times of these great trials that God seeks us most passionately. He wants us to walk with and lean on Him. While it can be easy to get angry with God, make sure you keep prayer as your anchor, now more than ever. 
  • Get angry with God {if you need to}. When we dealt with some of our own life losses, I recalled something our former associate pastor said about God. We tend to put Him in a box and think that He is only useful in certain situations – a fire extinguisher, a policeman, angry Himself. His words were invaluable to me when he went on to explain that whatever we’re feeling, we should give it to God. If anyone can handle our emotions, it’s Him and we should feel comfortable enough to lay all of it – the good, the bad, and the ugly – at His feet. 
  • Everyone grieves differently. Don’t feel guilty if you have to avoid anything that reminds you of them or if you have to hold their favorite shirt and sob. We all grieve how we know best.
  • Don’t be afraid to communicate your needs to others. Friends and family are often at the ready to assist you through this devastating time. Though it can be difficult and sometimes impossible to share what your needs are, doing so can go a long way in getting help with meals, babysitting, planning, etc. 
  • Get together with others who knew and loved the person that died. Share stories, memories and photos. Laugh and cry together. Keep their memory alive by remembering them.
  • Make sure you eat and stay hydrated. When the loss is sudden and is someone you were close to or their passing was traumatic, it’s easy to forget and ignore nourishment. But without it, it makes getting through everything else harder.
  • Carry tissue with you everywhere for several weeks or months. Grief and tears can strike anytime, anywhere. (And be okay with that.)
  • Consider grief counseling or a support group. Grief can spur on a natural bout of depression. Healthy grief will take its course and the depression will lessen over time. Meeting with other people in the same boat may prove to be a great place for you to share in your struggle while helping hold up other people through their grief, too. 


  • Don’t fill the silence. There’s a fine line between saying too much and not saying enough. This is one time when it’s important to gauge the grief in the moment, letting appropriate silence fill the air and speaking when you feel it will be well received. Being intuitive can be incredibly helpful. 
  • Recognize the loss. Remember birthdays, anniversaries, and death date by sending a quick note, email, or text to let someone know you remembered. It doesn’t have to be much. A simple Just wanted to let you know I’m thinking of you and praying for you today will do. 
  • Ask if a hug is needed…and then give one when it is. People have different levels of comfort when it comes to affection, but the gesture of offering a hug, even if the grieving person can’t accept it, will go a long way. 
  • Don’t forget the kids. They’ve suffered a loss. When you catch them on the phone trying to reach the parent, don’t bypass them. Ask how they’re doing. 
  • If you don’t know what to say, a simple I’m sorry for your loss or I am so sorry, I don’t know what to say, but I am praying for you can go a long way. Please know that saying nothing at all (i.e. radio silence) can be deafening. Yes, it may be awkward, but nothing’s worse than the person who lost a loved one. PLEASE acknowledge the death by saying something. You may get a response, you may not. But saying nothing at all is not ok. In fact, it can be damaging. 
  • Be present.  Show you recognize the person is hurting, sad, and going through something difficult. It’s not so much what someone says so much as that they’re there with you or remember you and don’t hide from you because they don’t know what to say. Show up to the Rosary or funeral, send a condolence card or flowers, make a donation in the deceased name or set up a memorial Mass.
  • If the loss was traumatic*know that that person needs extra care, and don’t push them to do too much. I kept having flashbacks and guilt about my uncle and then my family decided to host a tamaledad and wanted to host Christmas at my uncle’s house. I couldn’t be in that house for more than a couple of minutes because grief and flashbacks were overwhelming even three weeks later. They held the tamaledad, which I refused to stay for, but moved family Christmas elsewhere. 

*While suicide is considered taboo in our society, it’s important for the consoler to turn to the Catechism to bring words of comfort to the grieving. What’s most important is refraining from passing rash judgement on the manner in which the person died. – CCC 2280-2283

Everyone is responsible for his life before God who has given it to him. It is God who remains the sovereign Master of life. We are obliged to accept life gratefully and preserve it for his honor and the salvation of our souls. We are stewards, not owners, of the life God has entrusted to us. It is not ours to dispose of.

Suicide contradicts the natural inclination of the human being to preserve and perpetuate his life. It is gravely contrary to the just love of self. It likewise offends love of neighbor because it unjustly breaks the ties of solidarity with family, nation, and other human societies to which we continue to have obligations. Suicide is contrary to love for the living God.

If suicide is committed with the intention of setting an example, especially to the young, it also takes on the gravity of scandal. Voluntary co-operation in suicide is contrary to the moral law.

Grave psychological disturbances, anguish, or grave fear of hardship, suffering, or torture can diminish the responsibility of the one committing suicide.

We should not despair of the eternal salvation of persons who have taken their own lives. By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance. The Church prays for persons who have taken their own lives.


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