Part 1 of a 2-Part Grieving as a Family Unit SeriesDeath is probably the most stressful event a family can endure. Each person in a family has his or her own unique role and functions that cannot be replaced. So when a death occurs in the family, this creates a major gap that forces the family into disequilibrium, where the family needs reorganize and shift. This intense emotional suffering can put strain on families and increase conflict.
Over the next two articles, I will be discussing the process of grieving as a family. In this first article, I want to address the individual dynamics at play and what makes grief a deeply personal process. In the second article, I will consider ways families can best support one another through the pain of bereavement. Learning how to support each other during the grieving process will help promote family harmony.
Starting With the Personal Dynamics
Recognize that each person is will respond to death differently and will have special needs. A family member’s response to their loved one’s death often has a lot to do with their level of attachment with the deceased— in other words, their unique relationship with that person. For example an oldest child may have a stronger reaction to their father’s death than the youngest child because the oldest had more time to bond. A son who had an estranged relationship with his father will grieve differently than his sister for whom her father was her primary caregiver.
Understanding Each Other’s ‘Grieving Styles’
Learning your own grieving style and being aware of other member’s grieving style can help also you understand why people in your family may be reacting differently. Some family members may be intuitive grievers, needing to share their feelings and cry. Intuitive grievers tend to have a broad range of intense outward emotions such as anxiousness, weeping, depressed mood, or fatigue (Martin & Doka, 2000). Other members may be instrumental grievers, where grieving is more processing their thoughts, energy is channel through activities and feeling are tempered (Martin & Doka, 2000). Some people may be a blend of both.
Our differing grief reactions can “rub up” against each other and create conflict. For example, Sally wants to talk about her feelings and gets irritated at her brother John who likes to be quiet and journal. Tolerating each other’s differences and reframing from making someone grieve like us is key. Remember there is no right or wrong way to grieve if you are respecting yourself and the people around you. Grieving is more than an emotional expression and can affect us physically, mentally, socially, spiritually and behaviorally.
Giving One Another Time to Complete ‘Tasks of Mourning’
In addition, each member of the family will be going through the same tasks of mourning but will be processing the death at their own rates and it is important not rush a person through their grief experience. William Worden (2009) believes there are four main tasks of mourning each person must face as a part of their own grief work. These are
- To accept the reality of the loss. Accepting the reality of the loss is about coming to terms with the person’s absence; processing your shock and battling denial.
- To work through the pain of grief. Task two is the hard grief work of experiencing sorrow, despair, questioning, anger, and anxiety. It is about experiencing the pain of the loss and the loss of what will never be.
- To adjust to an environment in which the deceased is missing. The world you live in is not the same and may seem unfamiliar as your family is adjusting to new routines and responsibilities. Since, mom has died from cancer, now dad prepares Sally’s lunches before school. Sally cries at lunchtime, missing the love notes her mom use to put in her lunch box.
- To emotionally relocate the deceased and move on with life. Emotionally relocating does not mean we stop loving the person who died, but incorporating the memory of that person in our life in such where we remain connected but not impairing you from moving forward. Task four is about living life again.
Awareness of these tasks will help provided clarity in a grieving family. Often times just naming what we are experiencing and knowing its normal can provide some comfort.
Christian Counseling for Grieving Families
Grief is a complex experience, and each of us responds to grief in a unique way. When a family comes together to mourn the loss of a loved one, the experience can be powerful, but it is also usually quite stressful. If you or your family are struggling through grief, I encourage you to seek outside support. Talking to a Christian counselor can be an excellent way to process your loss and work through the tasks of grief. Whether you want one-to-one counseling or family therapy, a Christian counselor can offer Biblical insight and therapeutic expertise to help you understand and process your loss.
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