Improving the support of the suddenly bereaved

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Purpose of review

It is recognized that death is inevitable but rarely are we prepared for the death of significant persons in our lives. Sudden death is by its nature unexpected and thus shocking for family members and friends of the decedent. Sudden deaths have customarily been divided into four categories based on the cause of death, including natural, accidental, suicidal, or homicidal (NASH) deaths. Supporting the suddenly bereaved can be stressful, for both novice and experienced professionals; this review provides information important to healthcare professionals (HCP) who are often in a position to support family members after a sudden death.

Recent findings

Evidence suggests that supportive actions for those suddenly bereaved include HCPs conveying empathy, answering questions about the cause of death, allowing family members an opportunity to say goodbye, and providing follow-up over time. Bereaved individuals appreciate ongoing connections with healthcare professionals after the death, and HCPs need to recognize that the bereaved are at increased risk of illness in the months after a sudden death.


Supporting those bereaved after a sudden unexpected death is not easy, even for experienced professionals. This review identifies supportive strategies to use with individuals and family members who are suddenly bereaved. The suggestions in this review can be used in emergency departments and other settings involved with death notifications. Also provided is information that HCPs can use to support bereaved family members.

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