Chapter 4: When your parent dies

If your parent dies suddenly

It was so sudden. He died at home from a heart attack. I didn’t sleep for days. I felt empty. It was surreal.

If your parent died suddenly or unexpectedly, your first feelings may have been shock, anger, and dismay. It may take some time before you believe what has happened. This is a normal response. You may be surprised by some of the feelings that come up as time goes by. Keep in mind that your parent’s life as a whole, rather than their death or how they died, defines who they were. Below are some of the emotions you may experience. Click each one on the left to reveal more.


You may feel numb or “in a fog” in the first days, weeks, or months.

Guilt and regret

When someone has died unexpectedly, common feelings of guilt and regret can be intensified because things may have been left unsaid or undone.


You might feel incredibly grateful for the time you had together.

You may be feeling some or all of these feelings at once. Acknowledging them will help you to move forward.


What may help

Be patient and kind with yourself. Grieving a sudden or unexpected death can take longer than you might expect.

If you feel numb, trust that your other feelings will surface as you adjust to the reality of what has happened. 

If you are feeling guilt or regret, it can be helpful to remind yourself that you could not know when your parent would die.

Always try to remember that people grieve differently. Some find it more helpful to focus on tasks, or “doing” something, whereas others would rather reflect on and talk about feelings. Find what works for you.

If you feel “stuck” for a prolonged period or if your feelings are interfering with other relationships, work, and daily living, consider seeking support from a grief counsellor.