The nature of sudden or violent death makes the reality of what has happened particularly difficult to accept and is likely to result in a desperate search for meaning and understanding. When a death is unexpected, unanticipated and unprepared for, families often experience regrets over lost opportunities and unfulfilled intentions. They may feel they have been cheated out of an opportunity to say goodbye and are left with a sense of unfinished business.
Grief may be further complicated in circumstances where the family are unable to see the body of the person who has died. In circumstances of sudden or violent death, the coroner will be involved and a post mortem examination may be necessary to establish the cause of death. Media attention may also be a factor, especially when a death is violent. This can be particularly distressing and intrusive to the family.
“I will never forget the phone call from my father. He told me Ollie had had an accident and that I needed to meet them in St Richards A&E”
When children and young people are affected
Sometimes, children and young people are there at the scene, or they might be exposed to an event that is distressing or frightening in general. Even if they are not directly involved in the incident themselves, they may be frightened and disturbed in a number of ways. See our information on Supporting children after a frightening event.
Bereavement by suicide or possible suicide
Any death may be difficult to understand or make sense of, especially when it is sudden or unexpected. A death by suicide is likely to be even more difficult for families to face and to understand. There can be specific challenges for the whole family, and for children and young people, when grieving after a suicide.
Further information for families:
Bereavement by homicide or manslaughter
U-Film: For those bereaved by homicide
In 2012 we ran groups for young people aged 11-25, living in London, who have been bereaved through murder or manslaughter. The young people made films about what they feel is important for others to know about their experiences.
Further reading and resources
Coping with grief when someone you love dies suddenly
This free booklet aims to help you understand emotions and feelings commonly suffered after a sudden death. It provides straightforward advice on how to cope and who can help you to recover.
Someone has died suddenly
Author: Mary Williams and Steve Fraser
This warm and colourful book, prepared in partnership with bereavement specialists, is for suddenly bereaved children and adults to read together. It helps children understand their strong feelings and gives suggestions to help them cope. It provides straightforward information about practical things that happen after a sudden death, such as a post-mortem examination. Included are tips for adults on how to use it with young children.
Red Chocolate Elephants: For children bereaved by suicide - Book & DVD Resource
Author: Diana C.Sands
Provides adults with the understanding and assistance to support primary school aged children experiencing the death of a family member to suicide. It is not intended for children to read on their own, but as an assisted reading activity with an adult, reading a few pages and taking the time to explore concerns. Provides a sensitive and appropriate means of engaging with children around the difficult question of death through suicide.
Beyond the Rough Rock: Supporting a Child Who Has Been Bereaved Through Suicide
Author: Di Stubbs
This booklet offers practical advice for families in the immediate days and weeks when suicide has been the cause of death. It is a useful booklet aimed at giving parents and professionals the confidence to involve children in discussions about the nature of a death by suicide.
After a Suicide: A Workbook for Grieving Kids
Author: Dougy Centre
In this hands-on, interactive workbook, children who have been exposed to a suicide can learn from other grieving kids. The workbook includes drawing activities, puzzles, stories, advice from other kids and helpful suggestions for how to navigate the grief process after a suicide death.
A Special Scar: The Experiences of People Bereaved by Suicide
Author: Alison Wertheimer
Written and researched by a bereaved sibling, this book covers the losses of siblings, parents, children and friends.
Help is at hand: A resource for people bereaved by suicide and other sudden, traumatic death (2010 edition)
Author: Department of Health
This guide is aimed at the wide range of people who are affected by suicide or other sudden, traumatic death. It aims firstly to help people who are unexpectedly bereaved in this way. It also provides information for healthcare and other professionals who come into contact with bereaved people, to assist them in providing help and to suggest how they themselves may find support if they need it.
After a Murder: A Workbook for Grieving Kids
Author: Dougy Centre
Through the stories, thoughts and feelings of other kids who have experienced a murder, this hands-on workbook allows children to see that they are not alone in their feelings and experiences. The workbook includes drawing activities, puzzles and word games to help explain confusing elements specific to a murder, such as the police, media and legal system.
Hope Beyond the Headlines: Supporting a Child Bereaved Through Murder or Manslaughter
Author: Winston’s Wish
This new book offers practical advice for families in the immediate days, weeks and months following a murder. It is written for both parents and professionals, giving them confidence to involve children and young people in understanding and managing the particular difficulties and complexities that so often surround a death by murder or manslaughter.
Someone has died in a road crash
Author: Mary Williams OBE and Caroline Chisholm
Two young characters, who have been bereaved by a road crash, narrate the colourful book by giving caring and helpful tips. Tackling all the tough questions that children may want to ask, the book deals with the crash itself, funerals, police investigation and the possible emotions a child may experience.