Grief is an intricate, multi-layered emotion that affects every individual differently. When experienced within a family, it transforms into a shared journey where each member navigates the tides of sorrow in their unique way. The loss of a loved one echoes through the entire family, binding them in an unspoken understanding of pain and a shared need for healing.
Grief can draw families together but can sometimes pull them apart, no one prepares to lose a loved one and knowing how to juggle all of these emotions but also be an anchor of support can be hard to navigate.
Learning about grief and how it affects your family can help you get through the difficult times together. It may even help your family grow stronger.
Understanding Collective Grief
Grief, as a family experience, encompasses a spectrum of emotions. From the initial shock to the profound sadness that settles in, it affects relationships, communication, and the family’s overall dynamic. Understanding that each member copes differently is crucial—it might manifest as denial, anger, guilt, or a myriad of other emotions.
Grief may include but is certainly not limited to:
- Challenging your beliefs
- Disrupting routines
You can never sit there and predict how it will impact your life, or someone else. People will express grief in their own way. There are many ways to grieve as there are people. Here is an example of some of the differences:
- Men tend to take an active approach to handling their grief. They may, for example, plant a tree, organise an event in honour, or even challenge all those emotions into work.
- Women tend to be more emotionally available and talk and express their emotions more than others.
- Children’s responses may vary depending on their age, developmental level, and their parents’ reactions to the loss.
This isn’t a rule of thumb and no one knows your family better than you do and it is important to know there isn’t a right or wrong way to grieve. Just simply knowing and understanding that different members of your family may handle death differently and sympathising with that is a step in the right direction.
Through a Child’s Eyes
As a parent, your first reaction to a death in the family may be to protect your children from the pain of loss. You may feel as if your child is too young to understand and process those feelings or you might not know the words or yet have the strength to explain what it means.
Be careful that your protective instincts or withhold sharing don’t make it more difficult for your children to grieve. It’s a conversation that needs to be had, here they will develop these healthy emotional responses, as hard it may be it’s essential.
Like adults, children can also feel and experience chaos and loneliness when someone they love dies, sheltering these things or hiding such things will not allow them to properly process their feelings. Children can have a difficult time understanding the finality of death, here is some tips to help:
- Let them know they aren’t alone in what they are feeling: Be your child’s role model for how to grieve. Sharing some of your own sorrow can help your child feel less isolated.
- Help them understand what it means for someone to die: This is the only way they can comprehend what has happened. You may tell them, “Grandma has gone to heaven.” but they don’t know what heaven is and what that actually means.
- Explain what happens to the body of the person who has died: You might go on to explain that grandma was old and her body has stopped working or she’s sleeping forever now.
You could also go down the lane and talk bout your family’s spiritual beliefs at this time, and give special thought to how you would explain your family’s resting place. Try and explain burial or cremation in a way that helps your children feel safe and not scared.
- Reassurance is key: Children can often fear the safety of their parents and siblings after someone they love has died. Remind children of all the people who love them and who are there to take care of them.
It would be an easy process if while you watched films, and read stories such as Bambi and many others they tried and introduced death in these films. These can be your opportunities to explain what it is and what exactly it means before it’s a loved one.
This may be a long conversation so ensure the topic is being discussed during a safe time, ensure you’re in comfortable gym leggings, it is best to be prepared for it to be discussed for a longer time, they will need time to process and some reasurrance will be needed.
Navigating the Waves of Grief
Every family member copes with grief on their terms and within their timescale. Some might find solace in openly expressing their emotions, while others retreat into silence. Encouraging open communication, devoid of judgment, allows each individual to express their feelings without fear of being misunderstood.
It’s a process that requires patience and empathy, allowing space for everyone’s grieving process.
Honour the Memory Together
Creating rituals or traditions to commemorate the life of the departed can be a healing process for the entire family. It could be as simple as sharing stories during family gatherings or establishing a memorial in their honour.
Engaging in activities that celebrate the legacy of the departed helps in collective remembrance, fostering a sense of unity amidst loss.
Recognizing when external help is needed is vital. Sometimes, the weight of grief becomes overwhelming, and seeking guidance from grief counsellors or therapists can provide a safe space for the family to navigate through their emotions.
Support groups tailored for families experiencing loss can offer comfort in shared experiences and provide coping mechanisms.
Grief often reshapes family dynamics. Roles within the family might shift, and relationships can evolve. Acknowledging these changes and being open to adapting to new dynamics can strengthen familial bonds.
It involves patience and understanding as the family collectively adjusts to the void left by the departed member.
Healing and Moving Forward
Families resolve their grief at different times and in different ways. While this might take a long time, experts say it can take years to adjust to the loss of a spouse. Soon after loved ones dies, you might feel okay but every day is a step forward towards acceptance and healing.
Healing isn’t about forgetting but about learning to live with the absence. It’s a gradual process, and while the pain might never completely dissipate, it becomes more manageable over time.
Encouraging each other to embrace life while carrying the memories of the departed helps in the gradual journey towards acceptance.