Handbook for Mortals : Dying suddenly

Many people say that given a choice, they'd rather die suddenly and unexpectedly -- hoping to avoid the fear and pain of knowing that one is dying. When a sudden death occurs, neither the dead person nor the family will ordinarily have been prepared. They would have put off thinking about it, or waiting until it was time to deal with dying because of a serious illness.

When someone dies suddenly, survivors are left with a range of emotions and concerns. They may regret not having had the chance to say goodbye. Few people will have had any opportunity to say farewells, make amends, or tenderly affirm a bond. Survivors may have many concerns: Did the person suffer? Did he or she have any last words? Could he or she have been spiritually prepared? Survivors may have many questions about those last minutes or hours. Survivors may have many regrets and questions and no obvious way to answer them.

Sudden death is not a common way to die now, but it is common enough that it affects almost every family. Sudden death happens in a variety of situations, some man-made, some natural, some with catastrophic ramifications for entire communities, some with devastating consequences for one family. We discuss some of these here.

What can you do when someone you love dies suddenly?
Natural disasters
Multiple deaths
During chronic illness or recuperation
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
Some special issues: police, autopsy, and organ donation

Handbook for Mortals book cover Copyright © 1999, 2006 by Joanne Lynn. This extract from the Handbook for Mortals by Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D. is used with permission. To learn more about improving care at the end of life visit the main web site for Americans for Better Care of the Dying.
order book read excerpts