On that Friday morning he was a regular yeshiva bachur sitting and learning. But that changed at about 11 am.  People that weren’t usually in that beis medrash were suddenly coming in and out. Something seemed off. But never could young Aron Litwin imagine that he was the one whose life was about to become atypical. There was no reason to think that his father had suddenly collapsed and died. Why would that happen to his young, healthy father?

So began Aron Litwin’s journey through grief. Grief journeys don’t end. His began all those years ago in the train station when he found out the truth about his father. Yet he continues on this journey today, although he is a married man with children, a practicing psychotherapist and cofounder of Mekimi in England.

I also lost my father suddenly. One minute he was dancing at a wedding. Then he had a heart attack and was unresponsive, and about an hour later, he was officially pronounced dead. The shock was huge. How could a person be energetically dancing one minute and dead minutes later? How could a person who was taking walks and singing songs one day be gone the next? How could he not be here anymore? There was his jacket hanging over the chair. Here was his wallet with his license and social security card. And that bank clerk just called for him for the third time in two days. Why would he call a dead person? So he couldn’t dead. It made no sense.

Reading this might make you think about the shock and trauma experienced by someone who suffers a sudden loss. I am sure that any therapist understands the shock I felt. Except I felt the same way after the loss of my mother. In contrast to my father, I knew good and well that she was sick. I was with her throughout her sickness, and I knew her condition was deteriorating. But when she died, I said the same things: Look, her Shabbos robe is on her bed. There is the leichter she used to bentch licht this past Shabbos. Here is her purse with all her credit cards and change.  How could she be dead? It made no sense.

And so I found myself wondering: Is there really a difference between losing a loved one suddenly versus expecting it to happen?  This is what I learned:

According to Mr. Yosef Flohr, LMSW, CSAT, CCC, in any situation, the brain needs time to process what is , as opposed to going from denial to acceptance in the space of one second. When a relative observes a person approaching death, the brain has time to begin going through the stages of grief. It has time to feel the denial and anger. This makes it ultimately easier to move toward the final grieving stage, which is to accept the death.


A sudden loss can make the grieving process more difficult simply because the brain had no time to process that this was going to happen. This can result in a shocked, traumatized reaction. It can manifest itself as complete disbelief or intense anger or a feeling of wanting to yell or run away. Shock can cause a person to feel frozen or dissociated. Or a person can rapidly alternate between intense emotional reactions. Mr. Flohr explained that this is why the grieving process in such a circumstance might be different and possibly more intense. It’s not because there wasn’t time to say goodbye but because the brain had no time to process what was happening.


Now I understand the difference a little better. The grieving process after sudden death might be harder. But the pain is just as great. The way a person dies doesn’t reduce the level of pain.

 I am not a professional.   Perhaps I don’t know all the right lingo. But I have the experience.

 When a loved one dies, it hurts, and the pain is so intense, regardless of how it happens.


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