Sudden Death

Sudden Death

Sudden death is any kind of death that happens unexpectedly without any preparation. It can be incredibly devastating and traumatic for family and friends, being faced with the shock of knowing your loved one is gone. Without having the chance to say goodbye, loved ones can often feel very lost and grief-stricken.

What happens after a sudden death?

A doctor or emergency services will be the first to respond to a sudden or unexpected death. If the family is not already with the person who has died, the police will let them know as soon as possible.

If it looks as if the death cannot be explained by the medical professionals on hand, the police are required by law to investigate the cause of what happened. Find out more about what happens during a police investigation after a death.

The coroner will be called, who might order a post-mortem examination. Find out more about what happens when a coroner is called.

Dealing with the devastation of a sudden death

Grief is a very personal experience and affects everyone differently depending on many things, including your stage of life and life experience, cultural and spiritual beliefs and current circumstances.

Traumatic shock caused by suddenly losing a loved one can sometimes feel as if you are living in a dream-like state. This is completely natural as shock and can leave you feeling disconnected from everything around you. Because you didn’t have the chance to prepare for your loved one’s death, it is normal to feel distressed by feelings of missed opportunities or unfinished business, and regrets for things left unsaid or not done for the person who has died. Strong feelings can be displayed in many emotions – anger, agitation or immobilisation. Read more about understanding grief.

Coping strategies

There is a great deal of research and information available to guide loved ones in this incredibly difficult time. These suggested coping strategies have been compiled from the many resources and support services that are available to help.

  • Talk to your family and friends, your support network, and/or a professional who can help you to gain perspective
  • Share thoughts and feelings with others who have experienced a similar loss
  • Reach out for help if you feel any changes in your physical or emotional health
  • Make sure you understand the cause of death
  • Try to accept all of the feelings you might go through rather than push them away or try to ignore them, even if they are hard to face
  • Be included in making choices about farewells and remembrance events

Find grief and support services near you in our online directory.

Circumstances of sudden deaths

A sudden death can be caused by a number of things and can include:

  • Road crashes or other transport tragedies
  • Drowning, falling or other disasters
  • Undiagnosed terminal illness
  • A sudden medical event, for example, a heart attack or blood clot
  • Miscarriage
  • Death from an existing disease where death was not expected
  • Suicide
  • Homicide


Read about more about workplace accidents and ACC.

Losing someone unexpectedly, without the chance to say goodbye, can often leave us feeling lost and unprepared.