Theme: When Death Comes Suddenly

For those who have experienced a sudden loss – or know someone who has!

A sudden death can involve many things, such as an accident, suicide, cardiac arrest, cerebral hemorrhage, or other unforeseen events that take a life. Losing someone suddenly is neither easier nor harder than losing a loved one after a prolonged illness. Many of the difficult emotions, thoughts, and reactions are common among all those left behind—regardless of how they have lost. However, some aspects are indeed different.

As someone left behind after a sudden death, you may not have had the opportunity to say goodbye and farewell to the deceased. Additionally, sudden deaths often occur under dramatic conditions and circumstances.

Therefore, as a bereaved individual, you may need to find reflection in stories and accounts from other bereaved individuals who have experienced sudden loss.

Psychologist Marie Marx Tølbøll

About Feelings and Reactions After Sudden Deaths

When one loses someone suddenly to acute illness, accident, suicide, or murder, many different reactions and emotions can come into play. Many of these are common among all bereaved, whether they lost someone suddenly or had time to prepare. However, some feelings are more typical in the case of sudden deaths.

Marie Marx Tølbøll, a psychologist, discusses in this interview some of the feelings that often come into play after sudden losses.

It is important to emphasize that neither is ‘better’ or ‘easier’ than the other. Losing someone you love is a life-changing event, and it presents different challenges depending on whether you had time to prepare for the death through an illness or if it happened suddenly. One important difference is that when a person has been ill, their loved ones have had time to prepare for the loss. This does not necessarily mean that they have been able to fully prepare, but for most, some kind of mental processing of what is to come does take place.

It can be an enormous shock to lose a loved one without warning. Some people react very physically to receiving the news; they scream, collapse, or become so overwhelmed that they feel like they can’t stay in their own body. Others, on the contrary, become completely numb and feel that they don’t sense or understand anything at all.

The feeling of unreality is also very typical with sudden losses. Rationally, one may understand what has happened, but emotionally, it is difficult to process. Therefore, it is common to see bereaved individuals continue their daily routines and even go to work, despite just having received the news of the death.

“Going from one moment having a parent or sibling who is alive to the next moment having lost that person is simply too overwhelming for people. Therefore, many experience a feeling of unreality for some time after the death, and some find it difficult to fully let go of that feeling. With sudden deaths, the entire realization of what has happened occurs after the loss – and then it can take a really long time to understand,” says Marie.

The world becomes an uncertain place.

“Insecurity is also a feeling that often arises after a sudden loss. The shock and trauma put many bereaved individuals into a state of crisis or trigger common crisis reactions.”

This can manifest as a sense that the world has become an unsafe place. It may express itself through fear of losing others or fear of one’s own death. But it can also involve anxiety and insecurity in other ways. For example, an apprehensiveness about being alone and a general feeling of vulnerability. A crisis reaction can also involve going into a state of high alert, reacting strongly to the slightest sound or movement.

Marie says that it also makes a big difference who you are with when you receive the news. Whether there is someone who can take care of you or if you are alone or among strangers.

According to Marie, trauma reactions are also very normal. One can experience flashbacks or intrusive images where they have no control over when they will see them. These could be images of the accident site, what happened, or what they imagine happened. One might become very focused on avoiding things that trigger these images. For instance, they might avoid hospitals or take detours to avoid passing the accident site. They might also stay up late on their phone to the point of exhaustion, just to fall asleep from fatigue.

“Afterimages and flashbacks can end up becoming very debilitating. The trauma becomes an additional complicating factor in relation to grief. One may actually need separate help to deal with the trauma itself before they can address the grief over the loss,” says Marie.

Another typical feeling is a sense of lack of control. Sudden death of parents, siblings, or other close ones can create a sense that one has no control over anything. One can feel powerless and without influence over their life. This can result in becoming despondent and seeing the future with hopelessness, or becoming very controlling in an attempt to regain a sense of control.

Marie often encounters “what-if thoughts” in her work with those who have experienced sudden loss. For example, in connection with accidents. Many people start to think thoughts like “if only they had taken a different bus,” “left five minutes later,” “didn’t have to pick me up,” etc. Then it would never have happened.

“Such thoughts are very common in relation to accidents. With these thoughts, people try to undo the event by rewinding to the moment just before the loss. It’s about both the desire for the death never to have happened and the attempt to regain a sense of control. Trying to understand how the terrible event could have occurred,” explains Marie.

The Lack of Farewell

People who lose someone suddenly often become very preoccupied with the thought of not having said goodbye. For some, there may have been prior conflicts that can torment the bereaved, who might need help finding peace or making peace with themselves. In other situations, it’s not about conflicts but about things they would have liked to have said or done.

It can weigh heavily on an individual that they didn’t get to say goodbye. Bereaved individuals can dwell a lot on the last words because they believe or feel they should have said ‘I love you,’ ‘thank you for everything,’ or other meaningful phrases. However, in reality, when talking to people about their relationship with the deceased, they often realize that they actually did convey their feelings and messages to the deceased through other words and in other ways.

If the relationship was a bit more complicated, where, for example, there was anger between them, the issue is a bit different. One may end up feeling very alone with feelings of guilt and remorse, and many may need help to process these difficult emotions.

The imagination surpasses reality.

According to Marie, it can be stabilizing and create balance if one can learn to manage the inner images and fantasies about what happened. This might involve returning to the accident site or seeing the deceased, explains Marie.

“Often, the fantasies are more frightening than seeing things in reality. Therefore, in many cases, it can be important to have the opportunity to see the deceased. But it is crucial to be prepared for what you will see, especially concerning children. And there can certainly be instances where seeing the deceased can complicate things, for example, if the person is very affected after an accident or suicide. On the other hand, the fantasies and imaginings of how the deceased looks are often worse than reality. And if you and your family have seen the deceased, it becomes easier to talk about it afterward, even with the children. When you only have your own imaginings, it can easily get out of hand,” explains Marie.

Why MY family?

Another feeling that often arises is a sense of unfairness. Why did it have to be my parent or sibling who had to die?

Uretfærdighedsfølelsen kan ifølge Marie være meget voldsom og blive til vrede. Mange efterladte vil lede efter en person, de kan give ansvaret for dødsfaldet og nogen at rette vreden mod. Især hvis det drejer sig om ulykke, vold eller drab. I sidstnævnte tilfælde kan der opstå meget stærke og primitive følelser af vrede og hævn, som man kan få brug for hjælp til at håndtere. I andre situationer kan en efterladt stå tilbage med en skyldfølelse over selv at have overlevet en ulykke, hvor andre er døde. Man kan tænke, at det var bedre, hvis man selv var død.

Especially those bereaved by suicide have very complicated reactions and mixed emotions.

For those bereaved by suicide, many ambivalent feelings can come into play. Besides the shock, trauma, and grief of losing someone, they also have to deal with very conflicting emotions. This happens because as a bereaved person after a suicide, you can be very sad, miss the person, and be unhappy while also struggling with entirely different feelings. For example, you might be very angry at the person and think it was a selfish choice. Many also feel guilt and spend a lot of time wondering if they weren’t there enough for the person they lost. Other bereaved individuals experience an enormous sense of betrayal and see the suicide as a sign that they themselves must be worthless.

At Children, Youth & Grief, the experience is that those bereaved by suicide need support and help to manage the conflicting emotions, which can be very confusing and distressing.

Put food in the freezer!

In cases of sudden death, the financial and practical issues that follow can be especially significant. This is because there was no time to prepare in advance. These challenges must be managed on top of the grief and shock of the loss. It might mean that the family has to move due to financial constraints, children might have to change schools, and the family could lose its support network.

“Loss of a support network is a very serious problem. The function of the network is to compensate for the difficult situation the bereaved are in and to provide stability and support,” says Marie. She believes that the network might be even more important for individuals and families who experience sudden loss because they have not had time to prepare for the consequences.

The sense that someone is by your side amid the chaos means you can better find your way in the new reality. It is crucial for the network to show up and offer help. Not just once, but many times over a long period. Ask if there is anything you can help with and offer to be a kind of ‘base.’ If the bereaved person is in a severe crisis, they may not be able to do much. They might sleep poorly, be unable to manage practical tasks, and need basic care. Therefore: Put food in the freezer! Offer to pick up and drop off the children from school! Offer to do activities with the children! Offer to have the family over for meals. And offer to always be available for a talk. And keep at it! One does not get over a loss in a couple of weeks or a few months.

The network can also be a support concerning the many and difficult ‘what-if…’ thoughts that often go around in circles. The bereaved need reassurance regarding these thoughts. And here, the network must be patient. The person who has lost someone might need to tell the same things 100 times.

According to Marie, the network can also help with the issue of not having said goodbye:

“You can ask about their thoughts and pose questions like, ‘Do you think the person knew you loved him/her?’, ‘Did you have a good time when you were together?’, ‘What do you wish you had said?’, ‘Do you think he/she knew it?’ and ‘Maybe you said it in another way?’” suggests Marie.

Family and friends often want to help but may be unsure of what to do. It can help them if you, as the bereaved, express what you need.

Another barrier for the network stepping in can be that it is often a shock for those around you to hear that you have experienced a sudden loss. The breakdown of the illusion that ‘these things never happen to me,’ which happens to the bereaved themselves, also happens to some extent for those who hear about the loss. They may therefore find it difficult to hear about it because it stirs up a lot of unease within them. It’s not necessarily because they don’t mean well, but perhaps they just can’t handle it, concludes Marie Marx Tølbøll.

Personal Stories of Sudden Deaths

Line’s Story – My Mother Was Killed

My whole world collapsed.

Line lost both of her parents when she was 19 years old. Her father killed her mother and then took his own life. In an instant, Line became an orphan just one week after she had received her Student cap.

Line describes her relationship with her parents very differently. She was very close to her mother, who, in Line’s words, was a very loving and caring person who greatly valued life and was well-liked by everyone who knew her.

We spent a lot of time together and talked about almost everything. She was both my mother and my best friend.

A very strained relationship with her father

The relationship with her father was markedly different. Outwardly, he was also well-liked and humorous with people he liked. Outwardly, he was a completely different person than he was at home, and Line describes him as a tyrant whose mood controlled the atmosphere in the home.

“He was a bad father, and I never knew what I was coming home to,” says Line, who describes her relationship with her father as very strained.

The strained relationship culminated one day when Line was in her third year of high school. Her father strangled her and hit her. Shortly after, Line chose to move out.

Deep down, I knew what had happened.

Some time later, Line’s mother files for divorce, and it is decided that the family’s house will be put up for sale.

Since she filed for divorce, Line’s mother had been living with Line in her dorm room because Line’s father was threatening, and they feared what he might do.

But one day, Line’s mother and father have to meet with a real estate agent at their house to have it appraised before it is put up for sale.

That very day – and this meeting – becomes fateful. When the mother and father meet in the house, Line’s mother is killed. Line’s father shoots his wife – and then himself.

Line had gone to the beach with two friends when she received the call from the police. Although she knew deep down what had happened, she had to wait for the patrol car to arrive. They were not allowed to tell her anything over the phone. When the police finally came and told her that her mother was dead, Line collapsed.

I felt like my whole world had collapsed.

An extreme feeling of hopelessness and anger

Line remembers the time after as very surreal and filled with many mixed emotions. She reacted physically and became ill. She developed a high fever, lost weight, and began losing her hair. At the same time, it was hard to comprehend what had happened and that she would never see her mother again.

“I had an extreme feeling of hopelessness and powerlessness and an overwhelming grief that was very hard for me to deal with. I was also so angry at my father that I couldn’t stand being in my own body,” says Line, who at the time felt convinced that nothing would ever be good again and that she would never feel joy again.

In the family, they were good at sticking together and spent a lot of time with each other. Although they were all in a state of shock, they talked a lot about what had happened.

Let only a few get close

Line’s friends also tried to be there for her, but she isolated herself from many of them and let only two of her closest friends get close.

Line felt that what had happened to her and her family almost became a form of sensation for other people. Therefore, it became difficult for her to distinguish between friends who were genuine and those who were mostly interested because they found it exciting to be friends with “the girl whose father had killed her mother.”

Line came from a small town, so everyone quickly became aware of what had happened. Line received friend requests on Facebook from people she only knew peripherally and who had never shown interest in her before. People started whispering when they saw her, and awkward situations arose when she encountered people she knew.

“They asked how I was doing, and even though I knew they meant well, I thought it was a strange question because things were awful. I could also clearly sense that they didn’t really want an honest answer,” says Line.

Isolated herself more and more

Line isolated herself more and more because she felt that no one could understand how she felt anyway. Her friends didn’t know what to say, and Line didn’t like their attempts to comfort her. This made Line feel different and very alone with her feelings.

At the same time, Line greatly appreciated the close friends and family who wanted to be there and support her. It felt comforting and helped somewhat with the loneliness she felt.

Many people laid flowers at the childhood home and at the mother’s veterinary clinic. About 300 people attended her mother’s funeral. It was heartwarming to know that people were thinking of Line and her family. However, she felt that all the people who wanted to be there in the beginning disappeared after a while. It was as if their lives moved on, but Line’s world was still at a standstill.

Meeting Children, Youth & Grief has been crucial

Shortly after her mother’s death, Line found an article about a girl whose father had also killed her mother. The girl had received help from Children, Youth & Grief, which prompted Line to contact the organization. She subsequently received help through individual sessions with a psychologist and group therapy.

Line remembers her encounter with Children, Youth & Grief as liberating, and it gave her a place where she felt she could be herself.

The help I received from Children, Youth & Grief has been crucial for me. When I was elsewhere, I often felt obligated to put on a sort of mask and pretend that I was okay. When I met new people, I didn’t like to tell them what had happened. Their reactions were often so intense that it became uncomfortable for me, and I didn’t like that people knew so much about me. But at Children, Youth & Grief, I could cry as much as I wanted and say everything I needed to without having to consider the feelings of those listening. We were all in the same boat. Here, I didn’t feel alone!

Her time at Children, Youth & Grief, according to Line, has given her resources and tools to cope with the grief over her mother.

“Children, Youth & Grief has helped me to accept what happened, something I don’t think I would have otherwise achieved,” says Line.

My mother is still with me, just in a different way.

Regarding the consequences of losing her mother and experiencing her father killing her mother, Line says that she has difficulty forming attachments to other people. She has started to expect the worst.

She has had difficulties with romantic relationships because she needs extra care. She struggles to concentrate and focus on what she is doing. She describes it as a kind of hibernation state, where she finds it hard to move forward – she gets stuck.

However, she believes that she is now reaching a place where she has learned to live with what has happened and with her great loss. Line will never get over it, but she has accepted it as part of her story. The guilt she still carries, she has also learned to live with.

“I can’t turn back time, and I acted as I thought was right back then. I am still convinced of that! My father was just not a normal man, and no one could know that he would carry out his threats.”

I feel much better and have become a stronger person. I am happy with life again and look forward to the future. My mother is still with me, just in a different way than before.

To the question of whether there are any experiences or advice she would like to pass on to others in the same situation, she says:

“Even though everything seems hopeless right now, things will get better. It takes time, but it will happen! Accept all the help you can get. Talk about what happened and allow yourself to remember the person you lost – with both sorrow and joy. All the memories that hurt so much right now will one day bring you joy because you had this person in your life.”

If you know someone who has experienced a loss, Line’s advice is to try to find out what the person needs. Everyone is different and reacts differently, she explains.

It’s completely normal not to know what to say. But just say that! It’s okay! Don’t try to put yourself in the person’s place and understand how they feel, because you can’t. Show care in any way the person is able to accept. And just be there. It means more than you think. And remember, even though life goes on for you, the loss will occupy the bereaved for a long time. The entire life of the bereaved has been turned upside down, and it can take a long time to find their place in it.

Rasmus’ Story – My Father Died of a Heart Attack

I Miss the Farewell

At 24 years old, Rasmus suddenly lost his father to a heart attack. At that time, Rasmus had just started at the teacher’s college, and his father’s death marked the beginning of a period where Rasmus buried himself in practical tasks to avoid dealing with his father’s death. Meeting Children, Youth & Grief became a turning point that made Rasmus open up and put words to the many emotions stirring within him.

Rasmus had a close relationship with his father and describes him as a mentor. It was his father that Rasmus turned to if there was something he wanted to talk about or needed help with. They spent a lot of time together and shared common interests.

“We were probably more of a team than we were father and son,” says Rasmus.

Now, two years after his father’s death, he sits in Children, Youth & Grief’s offices in Kejsergade and talks about the day in December when he received the news.

I remember I was sitting and studying for an exam at the teacher’s college, and my mom called in the middle of the morning. Right then, I imagined that something was wrong. She usually doesn’t call at odd times, and I knew she was supposed to be at work. When she tells me what has happened, I am shocked. I remember just saying, ‘No, no, no, it can’t be true!’ I think I’m in a bad dream and can’t comprehend it at all. It’s so unreal. For the next half hour, I sit quietly with a whirlwind of thoughts and no thoughts at the same time. I feel empty.

On the same day, Rasmus takes his exam and then drives from Aarhus to Zealand to see his father and be with his mother and younger brother. The days are filled with practical tasks, such as planning the funeral and making phone calls to those who have not yet heard about his father’s death. The elementary school where his father taught, and which Rasmus had attended earlier, needed his father’s books and keys returned. The football club where his father and Rasmus had coached children together needed to be informed and shut down.

Rasmus takes on a lot of responsibility during that period and feels that he used the many practical tasks as a way to escape from his own emotions.

“It was a strange feeling. I did all these things without really being present and without understanding it. I could easily tell others about it, but I didn’t understand it myself. I felt that my mom and little brother had enough to deal with, so I felt I had to be there for them. Be the man of the family. Be strong. Whether I wanted to or not, it was my duty. I couldn’t allow myself to be sad because that would just make my mom and little brother sad too.”

Couldn’t Put Words to His Loss

In the early days, Rasmus didn’t talk to anyone about his feelings. It wasn’t something they discussed much in the family. Everyone had their own way of coping with the grief.

Many of Rasmus’ friends tried to be there for him with well-meaning texts and calls. Nevertheless, he chose to decline their support:

“I felt like I was being suffocated by it and that I needed to say stop. I would let them know when I was ready to talk! My friends were actually really good at being there for me – it was me who wasn’t ready to talk about it because I didn’t know how I felt,” says Rasmus.

One of the things Rasmus appreciated most after his father’s death was not being treated differently. He valued being able to behave as usual with his friends, without needing to talk about his father’s death. At the same time, it was nice that his friends also respected when it all became too much and Rasmus needed to withdraw a bit.

The grief group helped Rasmus to open up

Shortly after his father’s heart attack, Rasmus realized that he wanted to join a grief group to process his loss. Therefore, he contacted Children, Youth & Grief in Aarhus, and shortly before the summer holidays, six months after his father’s death, he started in a group session.

It was very challenging and difficult to participate in the grief group at first. But I experienced being in a place where I didn’t need to explain myself. I could just say how I felt, and the others would nod because they felt the same way. They recognized it. I didn’t have to answer ‘stupid’ questions, because they didn’t exist in the group. We were all on equal footing. They could understand what I said, and when I heard what the others said, I thought, I feel that way too! They could put words to feelings I didn’t even know I had, but which surfaced because they were spoken out loud.

When the emotions seriously began to hit Rasmus six months after his father’s death, it was as if his friends had almost forgotten it. Time had moved on for them, and since Rasmus hadn’t said anything for a long time, they had stopped asking about him.

Several others in the grief group had the same experience, so they began making agreements within the group to take the initiative to talk to their friends about their grief.

“It was insanely difficult, and I would never have done it if we hadn’t made those agreements in the group. It was hard to let someone in so deeply and let them hear it, feel it, and experience it. It is still difficult and tough to put into words how it feels,” says Rasmus.

Even though it is still difficult to involve his friends in the difficult emotions, Rasmus has found it very positive to open up.

“I was afraid of their reactions when, after six months, I said that what happened half a year ago, which we never talked about, I would like to talk about now because it still affects me deeply. But my friends reacted positively when I brought it up myself.”

Today, Rasmus is a volunteer at Children, Youth & Grief in Copenhagen, where he uses his own experiences to help other young people who have lost loved ones.

If I were to say something to others who have experienced loss, it would probably be to use those who are there for you. No matter if it’s right after the death – or three years later. Put words to it, talk about it. For me, it means a lot that people know I have a tough time in December. They take a little extra care, and even the small things make a huge difference.

I Will Miss a ‘Goodbye’

When asked what weighs most on him about losing his father so suddenly, Rasmus answers:

“I will miss the farewell. I remember the last time we talked on the phone before he died. We talked about the practical aspects of a football event he was going to host in Zealand, and I complained about the draft coming through my apartment door… It is very clear to me that I miss that ‘goodbye’. The farewell. I am glad he died suddenly because that’s what he would have wanted – rather than a long and serious illness. He would have preferred to have the respirator turned off. But it’s hard for all of us who are left behind, missing a goodbye,” concludes Rasmus.

Maria’s Story – My Father Committed Suicide

He Must Have Been So Lonely in the End

Maria lost her father to suicide in the fall of 2009. At that time, she was 22 years old and had taken a leave of absence from her studies to work and travel. She had just started her new full-time job on a Monday when she lost her father on Tuesday.

She describes her relationship with her father as turbulent. She remembers how, as a little girl, she loved playing with him. He was imaginative and really good at playing. It wasn’t until she got a bit older that she realized something was wrong. He was an alcoholic.

Wished Dearly for Her Father to Stop Drinking

Maria dearly wished that her father would stop drinking, and in the summer of 2009, she and her sister managed to get their father into treatment for alcoholism. At that time, they lived in different parts of the country, so their contact was primarily by phone, but both Maria and her younger sister had the impression that the treatment was going well and that their father was improving.

Unfortunately, he relapsed and ended up in a single-vehicle accident, where he wasn’t injured, but a blood sample was taken from him. As a police officer, he knew he would be dismissed if his alcoholism was discovered. He didn’t want that, and in November 2009, he chose to take his own life.

It Was Surreal for Me

When Maria came home after two days at her new job, she was met by her then-boyfriend and mother, who looked very serious.

I remember just wanting to know what had happened. I could see it was serious and thought it was my grandmother who had died. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that it could be my father. I was so sad when I found out. It was completely unreal to me.

Maria herself told her younger sister, who didn’t know yet. It was a hard and difficult experience for Maria to break the news to her. The days that followed were hectic. Maria’s parents were divorced, and along with her younger sister, Maria was the closest relative and had to handle the practical matters following her father’s death.

“It was surreal for me. I didn’t sleep much and my thoughts were racing. It was as if I stood still and stopped functioning while the whole world kept moving at a faster pace than usual. I couldn’t keep up. I was also incredibly sad for my father’s sake. He must have been so lonely in the end,” says Maria.

She went to see her father the day after. A decision she is glad about today. Everything felt so unreal, and maybe it wouldn’t have sunk in properly what had happened if she hadn’t seen him. Her younger sister didn’t see him, and Maria understands well that she didn’t want to.

Many Pretended Nothing Happened

Maria’s social circle had difficulty handling what had happened. In great chaos, Maria sent the message about her father’s suicide to friends via SMS. But no one knew how to react, and therefore many pretended nothing had happened. Maria clearly remembers feeling out of place in social situations.

I suddenly felt very different and missed having someone in my daily life at university who dared to ask about it. There was an enormous fear of touching the subject, and I felt like I had an elephant with me everywhere, which no one commented on or talked about. Luckily, I had support from my family and a close friend.

Hard to Dig into What Hurts

Her mother once read a newspaper article about Children, Youth & Grief, and Maria took her friend to the café evenings. Maria felt that there was no place that truly took care of her, and Children, Youth & Grief became the place that helped her live with her grief. There, Maria found a refuge from the difficult social relations with classmates and others.

At first, she attended the café evenings, and later she joined an open therapy group with eight other young people who had also lost a parent to alcoholism.

“It was a bit scary to start. I was nervous. But the room and the whole atmosphere were safe, and I felt and still feel that the premises have a very special vibe. It was a hard process… hard to dig into what hurts. But it has helped me not to feel different and to talk about what worries me,” says Maria.

One of the things Maria has appreciated most about being in Children, Youth & Grief is the recognition the eight young participants found in each other’s stories.

“It helped me to meet other young people in the same situation and discover that I wasn’t alone – that it wasn’t just my family that was affected,” says Maria.

Has Become More Sensitive

Today, Maria has reached a place where she feels good. There are still tough days, but she has gained tools that make it easier to talk about and handle the difficult thoughts and feelings. After completing her own process in Children, Youth & Grief, she became a volunteer in the organization and has been for nearly three years now.

I feel good. I have finished my education. I don’t think I would have managed without help from Children, Youth & Grief. Of course, there are tough days when I’m not worth much. These days come sometimes and suddenly. In general, I’ve probably become more ‘sensitive,’ if you can say that. I have a hard time with people making general statements about things like suicide.

Hard to Bring Up the Subject

Maria’s best advice for those who know a young person in grief is to talk to them:

“Keep asking them how they are. Not all the time – but show your interest in how the person is feeling. It can be hard for the bereaved to bring up the subject themselves. Even if it feels difficult and awkward, know that you are helping! There’s no right or wrong way to do it, and we don’t get more upset because you ask and we cry. We were already sad before you asked, but you give us a chance to express it,” concludes Maria.

Mette’s Story – My Mother Died in a Drowning Accident

My Mother Was My Best Friend

Mette was 21 years old when she lost her mother in a drowning accident nearly four years ago.

She describes her mother as a comforting, present, and warm person who gave 100% to everything she was involved in.

Mette and her mother were very close, talked about everything, and did almost everything together. The rest of the family called Mette “mini-mom” because she reminded them so much of her mother.

Her mother worked as a daycare mother, and Mette, who is now a trained educator, often helped with the children at home. She believes this experience laid the foundation for her passion.

Although words of affection were not often spoken in her childhood home, Mette never doubted her mother’s love. “You could always count on her – there was never any doubt about that. She was my best friend and the best mother in the world to me,” she says.

Mom Didn’t Make It

On August 18, 2013, Mette’s mother participated in Vejlefjord Swim. She was supposed to swim from one end of the fjord to the other, a route of about 1.4 km.

Mette was at work in Aarhus that morning but had a feeling all day that something was wrong. She had agreed with her mother that she would call when she reached the finish line, but the call never came.

When Mette got off work, she called her mother but got no answer. She called her father, who immediately handed the phone to Mette’s older sister. The sister told her that their mother hadn’t reached the finish line. They couldn’t find her, and a search was underway.

At that time, Mette was living in a dormitory. She ran downstairs to her friend’s room and broke down.

I just remember crying and crying, saying that they couldn’t find her, and I couldn’t control my body. I ran back and forth and jumped up and down.

Most of Mette’s family was in Vejle, and Mette was the only one left in Aarhus. Her older brother came to pick her up, and they drove to Vejle, where they were met by a police officer who asked them to follow him into a tent.

Shortly before that, a rescue helicopter had found their mother in the water, 4 kilometers from the swimming area. Unfortunately, she was found too late and was declared dead in the helicopter.

“I screamed when the policeman told us that mom was dead. I ran out of the tent and down to the water, screaming for her. And then I don’t remember much. I was in shock and couldn’t make sense of anything,” Mette recalls.

Sleepless Nights

The next few days were very blurry for Mette. The whole family gathered at her parents’ house, but Mette hardly slept and couldn’t find peace.

The family also had to decide whether to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. This was a difficult decision because they knew their mother hated hospitals. Nevertheless, they felt the need for certainty and hoped to find an explanation for the accident.

The autopsy didn’t reveal anything, so the cause of death was determined to be “drowning.” This was a hard message to receive and is something that has weighed heavily on Mette since.

The thought that has weighed on me the most, and still does, is whether she was out in that water, struggling and calling for help, and no one heard or saw her. That’s the hardest part for me, and that we’ll never find out what happened. It has given me many nightmares and sleepless nights.

Lost Friends

The accident was heavily covered in the local media afterward. Naturally, questions were raised about the safety at the event. At first, Mette avoided reading online newspapers because they kept writing about the accident, and the front pages featured a picture of her mother lying on a board, being taken out of the water and into the rescue helicopter.

Mette was very unsure about how to tell her friends and acquaintances about the accident. Most of them found out quickly because they lived in a small town.

At first, many people asked about Mette, but soon it was as if things returned to normal for them, and they forgot that Mette’s life had changed forever.

Mette says that since then, she has lost many friends. Not many could handle how she felt – and how she still feels. As a result, Mette has often felt lonely in her grief and still experiences loneliness, even when she’s with friends from her studies.

Great Support from Family and Children, Youth & Grief

Fortunately, Mette has experienced great support from her mother’s family after the death. Her grandmother and aunts made food, called, and kept their doors and phones open 24 hours a day.

“They have been there just as I could have wished,” says Mette.

Not long after the death, one of Mette’s colleagues connected her with a psychologist at Children, Youth & Grief in Aarhus. Mette had a conversation and then started in a therapy group with eight other young people. She also had individual sessions with a psychologist.

Although Mette initially found it hard to attend meetings at Children, Youth & Grief and thought she could handle it on her own, she now sees in hindsight that it was beneficial for her.

The best thing for me about being in the grief group was meeting others in the same situation as me, which made me feel less alone in the world. It was nice to have a space where everything could be let out.

My Mother Is with Me

Today, nearly four years later, although there are still tough periods and bad days, they are now further apart, Mette says. She feels better.

“I have my mother with me. She is with me everywhere in one way or another. I will forever and always miss my mother, and grief will always be a part of me,” says Mette, who also appreciates the new people who have come into her life after the death:

“I have met people who stick around and have helped me. People who didn’t know me when I still had my mother. They didn’t know the ‘old Mette,’ and I think it’s easier for them to deal with it because they only know me like this. Not that grief is my identity, but they haven’t known me without it,” Mette explains.

Difficult to Attach to People

One of the consequences of losing her mother so suddenly is that Mette thinks a lot and can easily make herself anxious and nervous.

“If people I care about are going on a flight, I can’t relax until I know they’ve landed safely. In general, I’ve become very anxious that something will happen to the people I care about,” says Mette.

Mette also says she has become bad at forming attachments to new people. She doesn’t know why, and maybe it would have been the same if her mother were still alive. But she believes it has to do with being extremely afraid of losing someone again after losing her mother.

Don’t Pretend to Be Strong

When asked if there’s anything she’d like to pass on to other young people who experience sudden loss, Mette says:

Take your time to grieve. Listen to how you best start moving forward. In hindsight, I think I started too early – I didn’t get to process anything before I was back at work. So I worked from 8 to 16 every day and buried it. Pretended to be strong. I was a world champion at looking okay and cool, even though I felt terrible. And then I would fall apart when I got home.

Her advice for those who know someone who has experienced a sudden loss is: “Listen, ask, and be there. It’s not so much about what you say, but that you dare to be there, both when things are going well and especially when they’re not. Don’t expect the pain to go away – not even after five years.”

Karen’s Story – I Lost Both of My Parents

I Could Not Understand It

Karen lost both of her parents within a few years. Her mother passed away after a long illness, and her father died very suddenly three years later.

Karen always had a close relationship with both of her parents, and after her mother passed, her relationship with her father grew even closer. They shared a need to talk about things – both good and bad, shared common interests, and overall had a trusting and close relationship.

When Karen’s father died, he had just returned from a six-month work assignment abroad, and Karen herself was doing an internship in Poland for her studies.

Karen describes the time before her father’s death as chaotic, but she also felt happy and light-hearted. Her mother’s death had become a bit more distant, and she felt calm and free from worries at home.

Her father had given Karen’s brother a plane ticket to Poland so he could visit her since he was planning a hiking trip to India. When her brother’s visit was over, and Karen was on her way to the airport with him, they received a call from the Danish police informing them that their father had died from altitude sickness in India. They couldn’t provide more details.

Unfortunately, Karen and her brother couldn’t take the same flight home, so they had to fly separately, still not knowing what exactly had happened to their father.

I Was in Shock

Karen barely remembers the next few days. She was in shock, and it took a long time before she truly began to process what had happened. No one really understood because it happened so suddenly, and it was still difficult to get more information about what had happened since it involved international authorities.

It felt completely different from losing my mother, where there was some form of resolution and understanding of what had happened. It took me a very long time to grasp what had happened – what it meant and what the consequences would be for me – because it was so unexpected, and because I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye.

Since her father had died in India, it took some time before they could hold a funeral. Karen and her brother spent that time figuring out insurance and other practical matters and informing friends and family.

“Those were strange days that we just had to get through,” says Karen.

She felt it was strange to be back in the family home after six months abroad. The house was now up for sale, so she spent time sitting in the garden, absorbing what she felt was the last essence of her father.

Everyone found it hard to understand what had happened. It was tough for Karen to see that everyone thought it was so unfair.

“It was as if family and friends couldn’t comprehend or accept that it was real – and they probably couldn’t bear to understand it. Most reacted with shock when they got the news that Dad had died,” says Karen.

I Only Needed My Brother and to Understand

Karen and her brother leaned heavily on each other during that time, and today they are, in Karen’s words, symbiotically close. Although many others wanted to help, Karen didn’t feel she needed help from anyone else. She needed to be with her brother and stay in the family home to let it all sink in. She needed to understand what had happened herself.

I didn’t feel that anyone else could help me with the thoughts and feelings I had because it was about it sinking into my own mind.

However, she greatly appreciated the practical help from family and friends. For example, some of her friends brought them food shortly after, which was a great help, Karen remembers.

Creating a Space for Grief

Six months after losing her father, Karen started a therapy group at Children, Youth & Grief. She describes the process as a relief.

“I felt comfortable right away, and I greatly appreciated being in an environment where everyone in the group spoke openly and honestly about their feelings. In the group, we talked at eye level – we understood and empathized with each other, but we didn’t pity each other – it gave me strength,” says Karen.

Listening to other young people in the group made Karen aware of some of the good memories and character traits she inherited from her parents.

Hearing other young people speak so lovingly about their parents triggered good thoughts in myself. I became aware of how lucky I am to have had such strong and loving parents. It highlighted the memories and character traits I have from my parents – traits and memories that I am happy and proud of – and that I always carry with me.

She still looks at some of the therapy letters she wrote while she was in the group, which helps create a space where she can remember her father in a positive way and give room to her grief in a busy daily life.

She has also gained other tools to accommodate grief from Children, Youth & Grief. For Karen, remembering is an active choice, and a series of small rituals gives Karen a sense of presence with her father.

Karen feels that losing her parents has made her more thoughtful and reflective. She has gained a different perspective on life and death than her peers. She can still experience significant emotional swings and can be both extremely sad and extremely happy about things that seem like small matters.

Talk to Others Who Have Lost!

In the period right after her father’s death, she remembers the feeling of standing on a pile of stacked chairs that could collapse at any moment. She still has that feeling of the ground slipping away from under her, but it has leveled out over time.

“I am doing well. It still goes up and down, but I feel that I have a firmer footing and a sense of security within myself. I am content with the people I have in my life, both family and friends,” says Karen, emphasizing that friends can play a significant and important role in life.

There are several experiences and good advice that Karen would like to pass on to others who experience sudden loss:

“In the time after losing my father, I felt infinitely lonely. It was a strange kind of loneliness because it was always there, even when I was surrounded by people. In such a situation, it can be comforting to know that there are other peers who have the same thoughts – even if you can’t see them in your circle. For a long time, I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I felt it was a very special situation I was in. A situation no one else could understand. But at Children, Youth & Grief, I discovered that although all young bereaved haven’t experienced the exact same things, there are many feelings and thoughts that are similar,” says Karen, who concludes with this piece of advice:

“It has been extremely valuable for me to realize that not all young people have a mom and dad who, for example, come to visit on weekends and do family things. For a long time after my father’s death, I observed people in the streets and felt like I saw families everywhere. I felt so insignificant and unimportant in the world. By talking to other young people who had also lost, I realized that even though I no longer have my parents with me, my life is not worth any less. Therefore, my best advice is to talk to someone who has experience with loss.”

Stine’s Story – My Mother Was Hit by a Train

My Mother Was a Wonderful Person

Stine was 22 years old when she lost her mother in a train accident. At that time, her mother had just returned from a deployment in Afghanistan, and Stine’s brother had just graduated. Looking back, she remembers it as a very happy time. Stine herself was about to move and had planned a wonderful long summer vacation.

Stine describes her relationship with her mother as absolutely fantastic:

“My mother has always been a great comfort in my life. She always gave me the belief that everything would be okay. The unconditional love and respect she always showed me gave me the belief that as long as I did my best, it was more than enough. For me, that’s probably one of the most important things I’ve taken with me. Although my mother is not here, I still feel like she is right behind me, supporting me in everything I do.”

Stine’s mother was a nurse. She always had good advice for getting rid of, for example, a stomach ache, Stine recalls: “But she wasn’t fussy! Her best advice for pain was always a run!”

One of the things Stine remembers most vividly is the many walks, hugs, and talks she had with her mother. And her mother’s fastelavn buns.

“My mother made the world’s best fastelavn buns! When I still lived at home, both my brother and I had friends who came over every year for fastelavn buns. This year, I’ve invited friends over for fastelavn, and I’m going to bake my mother’s buns for them. I’m really looking forward to it.”

My Body Short-Circuited

When Stine recalls the day her father called and said she needed to come home quickly, she mainly remembers the shock. She didn’t understand anything and didn’t want to hear more about the train accident her mother had been involved in.

At that time, Stine’s mother was not yet dead, and Stine was convinced that she would survive. She describes it as if her world stopped when her father called a few hours later and told her that her mother had died.

I remember how my legs felt completely numb and my senses sharpened. I remember the clouds in the sky and the signs I passed on the highway. Everything suddenly went into slow motion, while I was driving on a highway at 130 km/h. I don’t know how else to explain it other than I felt like my body short-circuited, but my eyes saw incredibly clearly. I didn’t cry. I couldn’t.

Stine remembers the time that followed as very blurry. Everyone was in shock and deeply affected by what had happened.

Both Stine’s family and Stine herself experienced incredible support from their network. Stine felt immense gratitude for having a circle of friends who dared to ask questions, show emotions, and understand her sorrow.

When she looks back, it was crucial for her that her friends were not afraid to ask questions. The worst were the people who said nothing, Stine says:

It doesn’t take much to say, and for me, it’s almost impossible to say anything wrong in that situation. It wasn’t so much about what people said, but more that I felt seen when people acknowledged they were sorry to hear what had happened.

Lost Sense of Herself

Today – more than four years later – Stine can see that she lost a sense of herself back then. It was too painful to face the situation. Maybe the shock was just too great, Stine tells:

“I stopped listening to myself and just did what I knew others thought I should do, or what I thought my mother would think I should do. Time passed, and I felt like I was okay.”

It was only a few years ago that Stine realized she had reached a point where she didn’t know whether to go left or right.

“I’ve lost half of my foundation, and it’s become very clear to me since my mother died that my father and mother had different strengths. They’ve always been a unit, like one entity. I hadn’t realized that they parented in different ways, and my father will never be able to fill the void my mother left. I can still feel very alone when I’m dealing with things I used to talk to my mother about,” says Stine.

The Whole Family Has Changed

To Stine, nothing can fill the void left by her mother.

We’ve always spent a lot of time together as a family. All four of us contributed to the respect, good atmosphere, trust, and love that was between us. That’s why my mother’s absence has had such a significant impact on us as a family. It’s like an orchestra playing the finest concert, but one day, they can’t play the same beautiful notes because the violin is missing.

Besides Stine’s own grief over the loss, the fact that the family’s life has changed significantly weighs heavily on her, she tells.

“We’ve had to learn to live with it as a family. And it’s been difficult. Especially because we each handled the grief differently,” says Stine, who has had trouble understanding some of the decisions her father has made since her mother’s death. The two have sometimes clashed because of this.

As the years have passed, they’ve found each other again and have returned to the respect, trust, love, and good atmosphere that characterized their family before.

“The Longing Shows How Much I Love Her”

Today, Stine is doing well. But her mother will always be missing.

I will never get over her death, but with each passing day, I learn to live with it. I still struggle with some of the scars left by losing my mother so suddenly. I still have days when I struggle with the longing and the unfairness of it all. But those days are fewer and fewer. The longing for my mother is a testament to how much I love her and reminds me that I will never forget her.

Stine is not in doubt that it’s been a long and tough journey to get to where she is today – and she hasn’t taken the straight or easy path.

The past few years have been marked by many thoughts about her mother, her death, and Stine’s own life. She has just returned from a two-month-long trip. Alone. A trip that gave her time and space to feel whether she wanted to go right or left.

The ups and downs over the last 4-5 years have now brought Stine to a place where she is happy and no longer feels that the bumps of everyday life knock her off course. A place where, despite everything, she feels lucky to have had the best mother for 22 years.

My mother taught me so many things. Both big and small. I knew her very well and can therefore carry her with me. That’s why I can say that she didn’t just make a difference in my life when she was alive – she still makes a huge difference in my life.

Children, Youth & Grief Caught Me in My Life’s Fall

Stine got help from Children, Youth & Grief when she felt ready to talk to someone about her grief. Someone who had also experienced loss and was in the same situation so she could experience the recognition of having lost that she couldn’t get from her social circle. She joined a conversation group with eight other young people who had all lost a mother or father. Today, she volunteers for Children, Youth & Grief.

“I’ve always felt that Children, Youth & Grief caught me in my life’s fall. It’s a house that holds so many tragic stories and, at the same time, a house that has so much love. The understanding I always meet from the other volunteers and from people in Children, Youth & Grief, in general, is something I particularly appreciate,” concludes Stine.

Mathilde’s Story – My Father Died in a Truck Accident

Jeg I Downplayed Itdet   

Mathilde lost her father in a truck accident shortly before she turned 15. She looked up to her father and described him as a role model. They listened to music together, and she shared his interest in books and World War II.

After her father’s death, books became a kind of refuge for Mathilde—a place where she felt she could still be close to him.

After her father’s death, Mathilde did everything she could to hide her feelings and shut out the grief. She was still in middle school, and the fear of being different made her completely suppress her sorrow.

It has been five years now, and although Mathilde feels she has moved on well with her life, everything changed since the day she received the news of her father’s death.

I Needed It Spelled Out

Early in the morning on December 29, 2011, Mathilde’s father lost his life while cycling to work when he collided head-on with a truck. Mathilde’s mother and sisters were awakened by the police, who came to deliver the news about the accident. Mathilde was the last to be awakened and informed. Her mother had called the parents’ best friends, and it was her mother’s friend and her mother who woke Mathilde with the news that her father had died.

I heard them say several times that he was dead. At first, I thought it was my grandfather who had died. I needed it spelled out that it was my father.

Afterward, the family was taken to Glostrup Psychiatric Hospital, where they waited for several hours.

“We waited for a psychologist from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., only to find out that there was no one at work due to the Christmas holiday. We waited there for a long time and were offered soda, which just seemed so absurd,” Mathilde recalls.

Mom Screamed When She Saw Him

Later, they went to Hvidovre Hospital to see her father. More family members had joined, and they all sat together in a small room waiting.

“I remember my mom was the first to go in and see him, and how she just screamed when she saw him lying there. None of us had been in there yet, and then we just heard this scream. It was awful because it took a while before I went in, so I just sat there not knowing how to handle it. It felt unreal.”

Mathilde remembers the time afterward as very chaotic. The family’s house was filled with people stopping by, and the house was overflowing with flowers. Her mother handled the practical tasks, and Mathilde and her older sister were allowed to do whatever they wanted.

A few days after her father’s death, it was New Year’s Eve. The family celebrated with good friends as they always had.

It was actually a really nice evening, but it probably hadn’t sunk in that he was gone. It took place at our home with family, friends, and children we had known since we were little. It was nice to be able to have a New Year’s dinner two days later and have a really good time, set off fireworks, and laugh—two days after my father’s death. But looking back, it was also very strange.

400 Attended the Funeral

However, the funeral and the days leading up to it were difficult for Mathilde. Due to a large number of attendees, the service could not be held in the church the family was connected to and had to be moved to another, larger church. This was hard for Mathilde to accept. Fortunately, their family pastor, Lars, was still able to conduct the service, and Mathilde’s father was buried on January 9th at the Church of the Resurrection in Albertslund, where about 400 people attended.

“My father was very outgoing and talked to people. He was someone everyone liked,” Mathilde says.

Became Unnervingly Good at Shutting Down Feelings

In the time that followed, Mathilde shut down her feelings. She remembers how her friends had started to become very interested in parties and boyfriends, and she didn’t feel there was room to bring up something as heavy as losing her father. Mathilde felt she drifted out of her friend group because she wasn’t interested in the same things as her peers.

The fear of being different became very prominent during that period, along with a feeling that her friends might not even want to hear about her loss and sorrowful feelings. Therefore, it became important for Mathilde to be as ‘normal’ as possible, and she almost felt embarrassed to be the girl who had lost a father. She completely hid her feelings.

I became unnervingly good at shutting down my feelings. But I missed someone seeing that I was completely downplaying it. They didn’t dare to ask and avoided me. And so, I shut down even more. Why should I share anything when it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to talk to me?

Half a year after her father’s death, Mathilde joined a grief group with other young people who had also lost a parent. In the group, there was room for Mathilde’s feelings, but she still felt out of place because the others in the group had lost someone to illness. Mathilde found it difficult to relate to the others because the illness journey that was so significant to them didn’t resonate with her.

Aside from the grief group, Mathilde had a childhood friend from the athletics club whom she felt comfortable enough to talk to about her feelings. She was the only person Mathilde really talked to until she went to boarding school after 9th grade and later to high school.

Breaking Down

Three and a half years after her father’s death, Mathilde was overwhelmed by the feelings she had tried to keep at bay and broke down. She called Children, Youth & Grief and got in touch with a psychologist who took her feelings seriously and was willing to listen. It helped Mathilde to open up about some of the feelings she had suppressed, and just knowing that there was a place she could turn to gave her a sense of peace.

Til spørgsmålet om der er nogle erfaringer, When asked if there are any experiences she would pass on to other young people who have lost someone, she answers:hun vil videregive til andre unge efterladte, svarer hun:

Let others know that you’re sad. It’s terrible not to tell anyone. It took more than three years before I spoke about it. And I had to seek help because I had kept it inside for so long.

He Will Always Be Missing

In many ways, Mathilde has been grateful that her father died so suddenly. Her father was very active, and he would have hated being sick, she believes.

At the same time, there are many things she would have liked to say to her father. Most of all, she would have liked to say a proper goodbye.

When Mathilde graduated, it hurt that her father wasn’t there to celebrate the occasion—and it will be the same with many other major life events to come: “I feel like I’ve moved on pretty well. But it still hurts and probably will from time to time for the rest of my life. He will always be missing.”

Tanja’s Story – My Husband Died in a Bicycle Accident

We are changed forever, but we can be okay!

Tanja’s husband died while on a bike ride in France. Suddenly, the family nucleus they had built together was reduced to three. Tanja was left alone with her two sons, Hugo and Felix, aged 5 and 7 respectively.

The life they had built and lived together as a family had to be redefined, and Tanja, together with her two boys, had to build a new existence.

Hit by a Car on a Bike Ride in France

While Tanja stayed in Denmark to manage her new business, her husband went on vacation with the children to France, where they stayed with some family. The plan was for Tanja to join them a few days later.

Before she could arrive, her husband went on a bike ride one day. When he didn’t return, the family became worried and called his mobile phone. The call was answered by the French police, who informed them that he had been hit by a car and died on the spot.

Important for the Children to See Their Father

It was important for Tanja to be the one to break the news to the children so she could be with them when they learned that their father had died. The family in France distracted the boys until Tanja arrived the next day.

She first went to the chapel to see her husband, and upon seeing him, decided that the children should also see him, despite the French police’s recommendations against it.

The children’s reaction to seeing their father confirmed to her that it was the right decision. They reacted very naturally and quickly dared to touch him and ask questions. Tanja felt she also learned something from their natural response to the situation.

I could just feel it was right for them to see him. It was a primal feeling from within that it had to be this way. He had almost no visible head trauma, so I decided they should be allowed to say goodbye. It was perhaps the best decision I made throughout the whole process,

The Boys Reacted Differently

Both boys were very shocked and sad about losing their father. They especially struggled with not having had the chance to say goodbye. They wanted to say one last thing to him, hear his voice, and get one last hug.

The longing for a final farewell was significant for both boys. However, their ways of dealing with their grief varied greatly. Hugo, aged 5, was very open and wanted to talk about his father, whereas Felix, aged 7 at the time, became very withdrawn. “He was so gripped by sorrow that he completely lost the spark in his eyes, and it was hard to reach him,” Tanja recounts.

Felix’s former kindergarten teacher, who had also lost her father as a child, helped him immensely during that period. They talked once a week for nearly a year and even wrote a little book together. This helped him open up about his feelings.

Subsequently, he also received help from Children, Youth & Grief, where he attended both individual therapy and a grief group. According to Tanja, this helped him a lot, and he gained tools to talk to others about how he feels. The openness has helped him prevent negative thoughts from taking over.

“It has been so good for him! Before he started at Children, Youth & Grief, he constantly felt like he was the only one in the world who felt like he did. It was extremely difficult for him to see that ‘the world just kept going’ as if nothing had happened. It was a huge experience for him to find recognition in a group of children who didn’t know each other beforehand,” Tanja says.

Wonderful When Someone Dared to Take Over

In the time after the death, Tanja and the children experienced tremendous support from their network. Some could not handle it, but fortunately, many chose to be there for Tanja and the children. Several in their circle of friends stepped in and offered their help with specific things.

One of Tanja’s friends moved in for a while and was a great help with all the practical things one suddenly faces as a single parent. Some brought dinner, and a good friend gave Tanja the contact details of a psychologist he knew, making it easier for her to make the call.

We especially appreciated the proactive friends who physically stepped into our lives during this period. It was really nice when someone dared to take over a bit, even if it might seem intrusive. Many in our circle said things like ‘let me know if you need anything,’ but not many did anything concrete, like dropping by with dinner or writing ‘should we take the boys to football today?’ When you can’t make sense of your feelings, it’s really hard to ask for help. But concrete offers where we could say ‘yes please’ or ‘no thanks’—those were worth their weight in gold!

As a Family, We Have Lost Part of Our Identity

Tanja explains that in the beginning, she was almost panicked at the thought that there were many things the children might forget about their father since they lost him so early. She felt a huge responsibility to preserve their memories, which was difficult. Among other reasons, because she and the children did not always want to talk about their father at the same times.

For Tanja, holidays and special occasions have not been the hardest days, nor the times when she missed her husband the most. It has been more in everyday life that he has been missed. For example, as the coach of the boys’ football team.

She and the boys have often looked at pictures. It has been good for Hugo and Felix to have something tangible to anchor their memories and stories to. Tanja has also asked family and friends to write down things about their father for the boys. This has resulted in many good stories, which she hopes they will cherish as they grow older.

I Had to Help the Children First

It has been difficult for Tanja to process her own grief over losing her husband while also dealing with her children’s loss of their father:

“You almost always put yourself in the background for the sake of the children. It’s a fine line, because it’s so important to remember yourself too. Many people told me it was important to help myself before the children… a bit like the good advice you get on planes about oxygen masks. But the only thing I needed in the immediate aftermath was advice and help on how to best support the children. I got that from a consultation with a child psychologist about a month after the accident. Only then did I have peace of mind to think about myself,” Tanja says.

“You almost always put yourself in the background for the sake of the children. It’s a fine line, because it’s so important to remember yourself too. Many people told me it was important to help myself before the children… a bit like the good advice you get on planes about oxygen masks. But the only thing I needed in the immediate aftermath was advice and help on how to best support the children. I got that from a consultation with a child psychologist about a month after the accident. Only then did I have peace of mind to think about myself,” Tanja says.

According to Tanja, the hardest part of losing her husband and the boys’ father is all the things that have had to be redefined. Does the life you created and lived together still make sense? And does it make sense to do things differently?

No One Expects You to Handle Everything Yourself

Tanja’s advice to others who lose someone suddenly is to get help!

“No one expects you to handle everything yourself, so take advantage of all those who reach out. Talk to a professional about children’s grief reactions. For example, the child psychologist I spoke with told me to decide what should happen to the children if something happens to me and to talk to the children about it. I thought that was the most insanely boundary-pushing thing! But she was right that it was already something that filled the boys’ minds and had been since the death. Now that dad is dead, can mom suddenly die too? It was a huge relief for the boys that we talked about it,” says Tanja.

The psychologist also told Tanja that children react differently to grief than adults and that their needs change over time in line with the stages of grief. Tanja has also experienced this with her two boys, and therefore advises making room for these changing needs.

Keep asking about things because the answer might change,” she advises anyone else who finds themselves in the same situation. “Don’t be afraid to ask the children directly how they are. They are already sad and won’t become more sad by being asked.

To those who know someone who has lost someone, she advises asking openly about it—and offering your help:

Do you need help now?

Contact TUSAANNGA 801180

If you’re feeling sad, having problems, or just need someone to talk to.

You can call Tusaannga at 801180 or text 1899.

Here, you can talk or chat with a professional counselor.

Opening Hours:

Monday – Thursday: 24 hours

Friday – Saturday: 24 hours

Sunday: 24 hours