• bereavement;
  • death;
  • families;
  • nurses;
  • nursing

Aim.  The aim of this study was to describe the lived experiences of families in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, who had lost a loved one to a sudden death.

Background.  Sudden death implies a natural or unnatural death which is unexpected; occurs without warning; and in some cases, could have been prevented. It usually occurs out of hospital, in the emergency department, or shortly after handing the client over to either critical care or operating theatre personnel. A sudden death has the capacity to leave the bereaved emotionally damaged and may exaggerate the responses to grief.

Method.  An interpretive hermeneutic phenomenological research approach was chosen for this study, as this allows the researcher to describe a phenomenon as experienced and to attempt to provide an understanding of the internal meanings of a person's experiences in the lived world.

Sample.  The sample included five bereaved family members who had lost a loved one to a sudden death and who were all members of a bereavement support group held in Durban, South Africa.

Results.  Bereaved families interviewed described five themes namely: ‘cold reception’ of the hospital staff, lack of closure, acknowledgement of loss, ‘loneliness of grief’ and helping others.

Relevance for clinical practice.  This qualitative study provides rich data regarding what bereaved family members view as important in their care during this time of crisis. The value of simple, small gestures by the health professional is enlightening. This information can be used to ensure that health professionals purposely direct their interventions and interactions with the bereaved family to ensure that they are managed in the most therapeutic way possible.