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Open Access Research article

Next of kin’s experiences of sudden and unexpected death from stroke - a study of narratives

Åsa Rejnö12*, Ella Danielson13 and Linda Berg1

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Care Sciences, University of Gothenburg, The Sahlgrenska Academy, Box 45740530, Göteborg, Sweden

2 The Stroke Unit, Kärnsjukhuset, Skaraborg Hospital, 54185, Skövde, Sweden

3 Department of Health Sciences, Mid Sweden University, 83125, Östersund, Sweden

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BMC Nursing 2013, 12:13  doi:10.1186/1472-6955-12-13

Published: 17 April 2013



Death always evokes feelings in those close to the afflicted person. When death comes suddenly the time for preparation is minimal and the next of kin have to cope with the situation despite their own sorrow. The suddenness is found to be stressful for the next of kin and communication both with healthcare professionals and information about what has happened has been found helpful. The aim of this study was to illuminate the experiences of next of kin from the sudden and unexpected death of a relative from acute stroke.


Data was collected over a 12-month period in 2009–2010. Twelve next of kin of patients cared for in stroke units who died suddenly and unexpectedly from stroke were interviewed using a narrative method. The narratives were analyzed using narrative thematic analysis.


Three themes emerged showing facets of next of kin’s experiences of a relative’s sudden and unexpected death from stroke: Divided feelings about the sudden and unexpected death; Perception of time and directed attention when keeping vigil; Contradictions and arbitrary memories when searching for understanding.


To have to live in the aftermath of severe stroke is absolute horror in people’s imagination and death is seen as the lesser of two evils. The sudden and unexpected death totally pervades the next of kin’s life, directs their attention to the dying person and even causes them to forget themselves and their own needs, and leads to difficulties in information intake. It is a challenge for the healthcare professionals to be able to identify the individual needs of the next of kin in this situation.

Acute stroke; Carer; Death and dying; Narratives; Next of kin; Nursing; Sudden and unexpected