Chapter 2: Why your grief may be different

Relationships with family members and friends

I've been there
Terry speaks about being supported in her grief. (3:22)Video transcript
Margo explains that she was surrounded by supportive people after the death of her sister. (3:22)Video transcript
Andy and Donna speak about how their friends reacted after the death of their son. (3:22)Video transcript

Too often, substance use is seen as the result of making bad choices, so therefore the consequences are justifiable. With this thinking, not only does the family feel like they have failed, but they’re also seen by others as having failed. I think that’s why some family members want to hide the cause of death: because they don’t want to be judged in the public eye.

I have other family members dealing with their own substance and mental health issues. When my brother died, it made a lot of things in our family worse.

When she died, I realized that I was on my own. I’ve always had my sister beside me. I will always be her brother, but it feels so different now. I miss being her brother and everything that goes with this.

Depending on the roles that the person had within your family or circle of friends, you may notice a shift in relationships between yourself and others, or among others. This death can have multiple meanings for everyone involved, especially others in your circle are using substances.

There may be disagreements about how to grieve; funeral arrangements; obituaries; who should be told what; who should communicate with media, police, or other authorities; and who gets to decide. This is not uncommon.

While there is a trend toward being more open about someone’s substance use, differences in personal grieving may mean that, for some people, talking about the person’s cause of death may be off limits.” At the same time, how each person feels about the person who died and their death may vary a lot.

In the past, people may have had differing opinions about how to “handle” the person’s substance use. At a time when everyone is grieving, painful experiences from the past can also resurface and cause conflict.

Click on the boxes below for two examples.

Example #1



One person may wish to speak openly about the cause of the death, believing it’s important to raise.


Example #2



Another person may want to keep details private to prevent family from becoming an “open book” or because it is just too raw to talk about openly.


What may help

  • Remember that each person had their own, unique relationship with the person who died and will grieve in their own way and time. There is no “right” way.
  • Recognize that because people have different needs and preferences, not everyone will feel as you do about sharing or discussing the person’s cause of death or other details about their life. 
  • Consider ways in which your family and friends can come together to remember and honour the person who died. Legacy activities including making picture albums or gathering personal memo
  • Recognized that over time, your needs and preferences, and those of others, may change. Make room for these to change.
  • Try to have open, honest, and respectful conversations about everyones needs, wishes, and decisions while working toward compromise. Patience with one another can go a long way.
  • If relationships within the family become too challenging or frayed, consider reaching out to a family counsellor or support group who can help to navigate the family dynamics while grieving.
​​ Helpful resources - Module 3 - How has this loss affected my family and me? - Module 5 – Making sense of intense emotions - Module 6 – Managing difficult situations