Unexpected Death: Definition And Causes

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Death is more often referred to as a taboo subject, not really spoken of, nor is it wanted to be spoken of, not wanting to speak about it may be a way one would want to grieve a death, but others may not be that way. This paper will go over unexpected death, the ways it can occur, the emotions of the people close to the decedent may feel, and how-to cope with such emotions.

Nothing in life is certain, except death, and dying unexpectantly is an aspect of death that most tend to forget, or not dwell on, but is a part out lives nonetheless. Everyone has their own interpretations of death, but death is closely related to fear, the fear of how our lives would be without that person, the fear of knowing that death is near, and the fear of an end. Death has taken many forms, from a man with jackal head carrying a staff, a black winged angel, or a robed skeleton carrying a scythe, but those are just personifications and are too simple. The many and very real, and far more complicated methods of death are far scarier. This paper will discuss which forms death may occur and how death has affected those who were close.

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The definition of an unexpected death often refers to children, young people, and mid-life adults. The occurrence of an event that has abruptly ended someone’s life and has drastically changed the lives of those who found the decedent significant. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) keeps track of all deaths or injuries that occur, as of 2017, the total number of deaths was 2,813,503 with a death rate of 863.8 deaths per 100,000 people and a life expectancy of 78.6 years. Infant mortality rate was 5.79 deaths per 1,000 live births. In terms of unexpected deaths, heart disease was 1st with 647,457 deaths, cancer was 2nd with 599,108 deaths, accident deaths were 3rd with 169,936 deaths, stroke was 4th with 146,383 deaths, and suicide was last with 47,173 deaths. There were other methods of death, though they were caused by chronic diseases and old age, such as lower respiratory diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, and kidney disease (Faststats, 2019). Death is not something you can fight, not easily at least, it is a trial by fire that some are lucky enough to pass, but for those that aren’t, they leave behind tears and heart wrenching emotion. There are countless stories of those who have unexpectantly died, and for everyone of those stories there is a family, friends that have lost someone important, someone more than a number.

However, the death may occur and how many are taken are inconsequential and are only of value for the numbers. What does matter is the tragic loss of someone important, a mother who went through painstaking hours of labor and birth to find out that her newborn didn’t survive the night, a family who lost their teenage son in a car accident, and a community that lost a dear friend. Devastation is the only word to describe the emotion that comes from a death that you don’t see coming. Elizabeth Murray, a staff writer for Burlington (VT) Free Press, wrote an article about Joseph Marshall, 17-year old boy, who killed not only himself but also a bicyclist, Richard Tom, in a car crash on April 26th in Hinesburg, Vermont. Murray spoke with Hinesburg police chief, Frank Koss, who had written a column for the Burlington Free Press, Koss blames the teenager for the crash and had he survived would’ve been charged with murder. Murray went to interview the mother and father not only about the incident but about the column the chief wrote, that interview grew into a bigger discussion involving 10 friends and relatives Murray says. Lucas Aube, a friend of Joseph Marshall, says that he lost respect for Chief Koss, Marshall’s mother says, “they made Joe, a 17-year-old who loved life, a murderer” (Murray, May 2015). Murray also wrote an article about Richard Tom, the bicyclist who was also killed in the accident. Murray talks about all the people who knew Tom, one man, Joe Drennan says that Tom was very passionate about cycling and all who participated in it, “he’d give you the shirt off his back … He was just happy to see other people on bikes.” So many others talked about Tom, mourning his lose, that he was a caring and joyous person (Murray, April 2015) These articles are a perfect example of the tragic, and devastating emotion that follows an unexpected death, but others aren’t always instant, some have a prolonging effect, like with the diagnosis of a disease, the death itself is expected but the diagnosis may not.

A sudden death is increasingly be out shadowed by terminal diagnosis, and thanks to modern medicine begins the long grueling crisis. Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author, calls this “the new grief,” and unlike sudden death this new grief includes the patient as well as their family and loved ones. Nowinski wrote an article for HuffPost where he talks about what one, along with their family, might go through after being diagnosed with a terminal illness. Nowinski says that when the family first learns that a family member was terminally diagnosed, they rally all of their resources together to aid the ill member, this called the “unity” stage of the new grief, but even as the family pulls itself together there may certain changes that may occur, such as lifestyles can become off balanced as a consequence of added responsibilities, former family issues that were once buried may resurface. Nowinski had talked to a woman whose father was terminally diagnosed, she says that she was in a state of constant exhaustion, both emotionally and physically, struggling to balance her job, taking care of her father, and maintaining her relationship with her husband, “I always feel stretched thin and like I’m not doing well enough at anything,” the woman said. Nowinski says that this was a perfect example of upheaval, a sudden change that is a disruption to something. Understandably, you’re not expected to just drop your whole life for the sole benefit of one person, you’re more supposed to aid that person to the best of your abilities, but what is expected of you? Nowinski in his article about terminal illness talks about what the family would be expected to do, then following that what needs to be done. First and foremost, Nowinski says, expect the situation to be fluid, ever changing and expect the moods of those involved to fluctuate. Strains will be put on the family dynamic because of the terminal illness, and those strains will show up as uncomfortable emotions, like anger, resentment, and jealousy, the families may feel guilty in response to these emotions and try to suppress them, but repressed anger may eventually find its way to surface. Not necessarily a bad thing though, as this will help the family come to face reality that the stress of the family, along with the family dynamic are changing to meet circumstances. Once expectations have been realized, it’s important to accept and embrace the reality of the upheaval, instead of running from it, Nowinski says, every crisis creates opportunities. Nowinski spoke with a man named Connor, whose brother, Mike, had cerebral palsy, and died at 18 years old, and once his brother died Connor said that he became “an only child, and I don’t have to worry about him anymore. But now I miss worrying about him.” Despite the terminal illness, the constant worrying, and the feeling of being uncomfortable, the illness itself created a dynamic within the family that had become treasured. After a loved one dies from an illness one may feel survivor’s guilt, which isn’t unusual and is that nagging guilt that we can feel about being healthy while a loved one is dying (Nowinski, 2011). It’s important to come to terms with, and accept the illness of a loved one, and though you may feel guilty about those negative emotions, they are completely natural and part of process to help prepare you for the inevitable. For the inevitable is the hardest part to come and will cause a pain and a devastation that may interfere with your ability to cope with the loss.

When we suddenly lose a loved one, we are shocked and stunned, may feel like it isn’t real, like it’s all a dream. The sudden loss of someone is so disruptive that it almost becomes complicated, because our natural ability to cope becomes impaired to the point where we are overwhelmed, Theresa Rando, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, wrote an article for Legacy.com, a website for memorials, on how to cope with the sudden death of a loved one. When grieving the sudden loss of a loved one, Rando says, you may suffer from extreme feelings of bewilderment, anxiety, self-reproach, and depression because you were unable to gradually absorb the reality of your new world, and instead felt its destruction. The sudden loss has violated your sense for the world, along with your control, not to say that those who have lost someone through natural means and anticipated the death are experiencing any less grief, but the difference between the two is just that, anticipation. Having the anticipation of death, you could better cope with the expectable end, the loss makes sense. Not having the anticipation of the death may create “what-if” scenarios in your mind and in turn will create a sense of regret that you’ve had unfinished business with your loved one, the loss doesn’t make sense, and you may repeatedly go over the story of the death trying to make sense of it. While trying to make sense of it, you may recount previous events that may have foreshadowed what was to come, the reconstruction of events makes the situation more manageable, bringing back control and predictability. However, problems arise when you hold yourself responsible, Rando says, grievers may react emotionally and respond to what they believe as unmet responsibility. Rando talks of a woman who felt guilt for years after her mother had died from a burst aneurysm and had connected her difficulty with climbing the stairs as a precursor, the woman felt that she should have recognized that something was wrong with her mother, though unless the woman took her mother to the doctor there was no way for her to tell that something was wrong. Those who have lost a loved on suddenly the grief symptoms may persist longer, and the shock will be emotionally as well as physically draining and may demoralize you from coping properly and trying to understand what happened. Losing someone suddenly means most likely you never got to say goodbye or finish that unfinished business the two of you had and will most probably cause much anguish. Rando has had many sudden deaths in her life, all of which were important, she talks about whenever her husband arrives home late from work, she automatically assumes that something terrible has happened (Rando, 2008). That speaks volumes, because it reveals the scars that she has endured because of someone she loved has suddenly died, and it is proof enough that anyone can be taken without warning and their death will still impact us well after we are gone.

Death has many forms. A supernatural personification, an oncoming car, a microbial disease, and many more, each terrifying. Whether we like it or not death is part of the family, and will inevitably come for us all one day, and whatever emotions you feel are completely natural and isn’t wrong to talk about, it’s okay to ask for more attention, or for a little time to yourself. People get angry or resentful, depressed or lonely, that’s normal, but it’s important that you not take the time you have with that special person for granted, and when their time comes, whether you anticipate it or not, you embrace it.

Works Cited

  1. FastStats – Homepage. (2019, August 1). Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/default.htm
  2. Murray, E. (2015, April 27). Grief, shock in Hinesburg after crash. Retrieved from https://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/news/local/2015/04/27/hinesburg-processes-loss-two-community-members/26453747/
  3. Murray, E. (2015, May 24). Family Reacts to Chief’s Column on Fatal Crash. Retrieved from: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/05/24/family-reacts-to-chiefs-column-on-fatal-crash/27890331/
  4. Nowinski, J. (2011, October 8). How to Cope with a Terminally Ill Loved One. Retrieved from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/terminal-illness-and-fami_b_919879
  5. Rando, T. (2008). Coping with a Sudden Death. Retrieved from http://www.legacy.com/news/advice-and-support/article/sudden-death


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