Chapter 5: Your family
Ways families grieve
I had always been the comforter for everyone else, but this time I was immobilized. When I think back, I guess we all were.
Some families have a style of grief that involves being stoic and showing little emotion with each other. Other families have a more open style of communication. Each family is different, and one way is not better than another. Families also have different circumstances and personalities that impact each person’s grief. Click on each item below to read more.
People have different personal ways of grieving, even people within the same family. You may notice some family members expressing their feelings easily while others focus on practical tasks or learning about their experiences by reading. Problems sometimes arise if some family members have a coping style that is different than everyone else’s.
Regardless of their age, your child had a unique place in the family, with certain roles and relationships. Whenever a family member dies, a shift occurs within the family “system” as other people’s roles and relationships adjust to the loss. Your family will likely feel off-balance – like removing a piece from a mobile – especially at the beginning.
Even in families that express feelings openly, you or someone else in your family may try to “protect” others by hiding strong feelings. This may be conscious or not. Sometimes people worry that by crying or looking sad, they will upset someone else. While expressing feelings may trigger feelings in others, this doesn’t actually cause more pain. Instead, it reveals pain that’s already there. Hiding feelings can lead to misunderstandings and can leave you or others feeling more alone in grief.
A death in the family can bring out existing conflicts or issues. These conflicts may lead to other losses and disappointments. For example, disagreements or fighting may arise, or relationships may be strained. You might be feeling more distant or upset with each other than you ever thought possible, or you might find that you feel closer than you have in a long time. For many, it’s a combination of both.
What may help
- You may find it difficult if other family members don’t grieve as you expect them to. Remember that there is no “right way” to grieve.
- Acknowledging differences can be helpful, as can agreeing to give each other some “slack.”
- Recognize that your child’s death will leave some gaps or holes within your family structure. Adjusting to these losses will take time for everyone.
- As much as possible, encourage open and honest communication of thoughts and feelings. Remember that expressing these won’t make anyone’s pain or distress worse.
- Your child’s death may not take away all the complexities of family relationships. Existing tensions or conflict may be eased or worsened. If family tensions feel unmanageable, consider talking to a grief counsellor or family therapist.