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Experiencing the unexpected death of a close family member or friend may cause occupational disruptions in social participation, work and school performance, home management, and personal care maintenance (Simpson & Elberty, 2018; Forhan, 2010; Hoppes, 2005; Weis et al., 2019). Little research highlights the unique occupational impacts of unexpected loss, distinguished from other types of loss, and from a direct occupational perspective. Therefore little is known about how to provide aid, resources, and programming to this population. The purpose of this research project was to understand how occupations are uniquely impacted by experiencing the unexpected death of a loved one. The quantitative descriptive study used interviews and online questionnaires to explore first-person perspectives on experiencing unexpected loss (n = 33). Four major themes emerged from the data: unexpected death’s unique occupational impacts, grief as a new role, grief language as a tool for breaking or building connections, and occupational resiliency against unexpected grief. Experiencing the unexpected death of a loved one may disrupt processing and mourning timelines, add psychological challenges, create a grieving identity shift, and be greatly impacted by the use of grief language and the grievers’ motivation to perform occupations. Occupational therapists working with unexpected grievers should use a trauma based approach with appropriate grief language and withhold grieving timeline expectations.

Publication Date

Spring 5-5-2023


University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences


unexpected death, traumatic death, grief, loss

Medical Subject Headings

Grief; Sudden Death; Bereavement; Resilience, Psychological; Occupational Therapy, Adult


Occupational Therapy | Other Psychiatry and Psychology


Poster presented at the Spring 2023 Virtual OTD Capstone Symposium held online at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences on April 4 and April 12, 2023.

Exploring the Occupational Impact of Experiencing an Unexpected Death in Adulthood