Chapter 4: Impact on family and friends
Family differences in grieving
After my brother died, our family was a bit in chaos. Everyone was grieving, but not in the same way. It took time for us to figure out how to talk to one another about it.
My younger brother and I are talkers, and so we’ve gravitated to each other to grieve and share stories. My sister and mother, on the other hand, won’t talk about it because it feels too hard. They are both “doers” though. My sister is planting her heartbreak in her garden and my mother is baking non-stop and sharing with all of the neighbours. They are grieving in their own ways.
Each family and each person within it will have their own way of grieving. You or others in your family may be upset or disappointed to discover that you don’t all grieve in the same way. You may find that you are feeling more distant or more upset with each other than you ever thought possible, or you might find that you feel closer than you have in a long time, or even for the first time. For many, it is a combination of both.
A family death does not erase all the complexities of relationships, and sometimes it adds to them. Click on each box below for examples of common situations that families encounter when grieving.
Each family has their own way of responding to difficulties. Some families adopt a stoic style, showing little emotion to each other or crying “behind closed doors.” Other families are openly affectionate and expressive with one another and have an open style of communication, talking easily with one another about feelings and thoughts.
Within a family, there can be different ways of grieving. You might notice some of your family expressing their feelings easily, while others seem to focus on getting practical tasks done or quietly learning more about their experiences by reading or searching the internet. Problems sometimes arise if one person’s coping style is different than everyone else’s in the family.
Sometimes family members try to “protect” one another from further upset, by shielding each other from strong emotions. This may be conscious or not and is often done in an effort not to upset anyone or cause additional pain. Thinking that that seeing one person upset will make another more upset can lead to misunderstandings or feelings of isolation.
Depending on the situation, you or others may not have been present at your sibling’s death. If no one was present, you may find some comfort in sharing thoughts and feelings about this. If some people were present and others were not, it can be helpful to exchange differing experiences.
A death in the family can often amplify existing conflicts or issues, and as a result, you may be dealing with other losses and disappointments.
Any differences that arise will likely be added to other differences that may have existed before your sibling’s death, but it is also possible that you will be able to rely on positive connections you had.
Tolerance, understanding, and good communication can help in moving forward with your own grief and allowing others to do so as well. You may need to find a way to give each other some “slack” while you are struggling in different ways.
What may help
Remember that one style is not necessarily better than another. Open communication can help everyone to understand or accept differences in grieving.
While seeing someone cry can trigger tears and feelings in others, it is not true that this causes the other more pain; rather, it is revealing pain that is already there.
Sharing experiences and feelings about what it was like to be present at the death, and what it was like not to be there can help to eliminate assumptions and misunderstandings, and can ease feelings of resentment or regret.
Managing family conflict after a death is usually challenging, but sometimes difficult situations can bring people together in new ways. If tensions become unmanageable, a professional grief counsellor can be helpful by offering insights and suggestions.