When death comes suddenly and without warning, it is often difficult to believe what has happened. In this section we offer guidance on some of the legal and practical matters which follow this kind of death, as well as some thoughts on coping with the strong emotions which follow such a death.
Many deaths may appear to be sudden, either because the person wasn't aware how ill they were, or because the relatives or friends didn't think the person was dying. If we're not prepared for the death then the death will appear to be sudden to us.
This lack of preparation means that the news of the death comes as a surprise, and the feeling of shock can be very deep. Sometimes it feels impossible to take in the reality of what's happened, and we may feel numb or find ourselves denying that the person has died. These feelings will pass as we begin to accept what we're being told.
However some deaths can be very sudden and unexpected particularly if the death resulted from an accident, or from a violent attack.
Because of the nature of sudden deaths, they may occur anywhere, on the street, at work, in the midst of a leisure activity or on holiday. Deaths such as these are also really hard to come to terms with and can create very strong emotions including anger and disbelief.
When it's difficult to accept the reality of a sudden death, it can be helpful to take time to talk with other family members about the person before the event that led to their death.
When a death is sudden, or unexpected, there are certain rules which apply in order that the cause of death can be clearly ascertained. This will involve a report being sent to the procurator fiscal, who has responsibility for investigating all sudden or unexplained deaths in Scotland. Sometimes the fiscal may be able to accept that the death was normal, but on other occasions he may require a fuller investigation, which may include ordering a post-mortem examination, or asking the police to make enquiries, or both.
You can read more about the role of the procurator fiscal at the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service website. If the death has been reported to the fiscal you can telephone their enquiry point where staff will try to assist you. Phone 0844 561 3000 (from landlines) and 01389 739557 (from mobiles).
When a person takes their own life, then the grief of family and friends is frequently intense and may be complicated by the suddenness of the death and the lack of any clear reason as to why the person made the decision.
The involvement of the police in investigating the circumstances surrounding the death, and the fact that society may still attach some stigma to deaths by suicide may also make the grieving more difficult.