Have you ever lost a family member, friend, or colleague unexpectedly? Our community lost a respected and loved assistant principal at the school my children attend. The school community is devastated by this sudden loss. His overwhelming presence and positive impact will be greatly missed by so many people whose lives he touched. So how do we cope with such a loss?
Initially, shock and denial are typical responses to unexpected loss, with some people feeling numb or disconnected from life for a short time. Sometimes feelings such as sadness, anxiety, guilt and/or fear occur unpredictably and at times intensely. Emotions can also appear in waves with the intensity waxing and waning. There is no “right way” to grieve as some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions. Likewise, some individuals experience physical symptoms, strained interpersonal relationships, difficulties with concentration/decision-making, and disturbance in sleep and eating patterns. Understanding normal reactions to an overwhelming loss can help in coping effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors.
Dealing with any loss is difficult, especially an unexpected death. It helps to give yourself time to mourn, communicate with others what you’re feeling, and lean on your support group of family and friends. Remember the good times and positive experiences you shared with the person who passed away. Attending the funeral, writing a note, or sharing a story can provide a sense of closure. Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your coping ability including rest, well-balanced meals, exercise, and getting back to the routines of life. Most importantly, stay connected to people and provide mutual support for others experiencing the same emotions.
If you continue to struggle with lingering sadness or overwhelming nervousness over an extended period of time that interferes with daily living, consider professional help. The principal at our school has offered grief counselors for those students and teachers who might need some assistance in dealing with their emotions. Take advantage of the support and lean on each other as you work through the emotional pain of an unexpected loss.