Dealing with Shock after Loss

How to deal with shock after loss

We live our lives thinking and acting on the little things; what shall we have for dinner, I could do with a good night’s sleep, I really need to clean out the fridge, the car needs taxing, we laugh, we lose our temper, we make plans – little and large and so we pass ours days.

Then it all falls apart. Something has happened, something so awful that our lives are changed forever in the blinking of an eye.

The loss of someone we love whether or not expected will result in some degree of shock.

Your brain may refuse to register the news. You may feel numb or emotionally frozen. Often, this shock initially protects you from experiencing the inevitable pain of loss.

There is no right or wrong way to respond, in fact, in the early days there are no rules at all.

Some folk respond by being ’strong’ ‘your loved one would be so proud’. But often this is just a coping mechanism stopping us feeling the searing intensity of the loss; some clam up, lost in their own world of pain, unable to express or verbalise their distress and trying desperately to find a way to avoid the truth, others scream, shout and cry – an immediate response healthy and cathartic but which can quickly be replaced by other ways of responding to the news and some of us will respond with anger, frustration, fury and a need for action.


Shock is there to help us survive, your body knows when to move on, listen to its advice. Be gentle and be kind to yourself.

There are of course many other responses such as relief, sadness, confusion, hatred, powerlessness and emptiness, but what we will all share is the shock.

How can we recognise shock in others?

Certainly for the first few weeks people often feel in a daze that although they know and to some extent understand what has happened they are only partly present in reality. They may join in conversations but it will be difficult for them to maintain the same level of concentration that you may have been used to from them, there will be a lack of interest in themselves and others, a slowness and detachment will be evident, smiles will be short lived and not touch their eyes, empathy for others will be difficult as they struggle to accept and believe in their loss.

Shock of a sudden loss

How long will it last?

As with grief itself, shock does not allow us to make it a servant to our longing for order. The transition to grief may be smooth and timely but of course often isn’t!  Like wading on to the beach from a swim in the sea, the shock can hit us like the incoming tide again and again.

Why do we feel shock?

The body has developed strategies that work over millennium; it has passed down through our ancestors the ways to cope that keep us alive, shock protects us from the full implications of our loss, it enables us to gradually absorb the information, allowing us only as much pain as we can bear. Our bodies are wonderful instruments of survival, without shock we might act unhelpfully under the pressure of overwhelming pain and our desire to be with our loved ones can defeat our love of life.

Shock is there to help us survive, your body knows when to move on, listen to its advice. Be gentle and be kind to yourself.

Shock after a loss is normally followed by grief, read more of our experts’ advice, coping strategies and resources from our Emotional Support pages

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