At first, when you experience the loss of a family member, everyone tends to come together, hug a lot, and form a united bond from the grief you’re experiencing together. But oftentimes, that hugging turns into fighting pretty quickly when funeral arrangements are not agreed upon by everyone or the estate sale runs into a kink or three.
Soon, the fresh wound of losing a loved one combined with the mounting stress of finalizing arrangements and divvying up the estate turns from love and hugs to anger and resentment with a lot of screaming and kicking in between.
How can such a close-knit family be at each other’s throats during a time when they should be thick as thieves, working together to lay to rest someone they love dearly? Well, that’s a loaded question.
Navigating Grief Within the Family
Navigating grief within the family starts with understanding that, one, everyone is experiencing grief they’ve not yet experienced before, and two, in their own way. And their way may not look like your way.
Here are 3 ways to navigate the pain of loss within your family without losing your sanity.
- Don’t expect everyone to grieve the same way you do. Just because people (even people you’ve known all your life) aren’t handling a loss the same way you are, doesn’t mean they aren’t grieving. Instead of resenting them for not behaving the way you think they should, consider that everyone navigates life experiences differently. Your sister isn’t as sad about losing a parent as you are? Your brother isn’t being helpful when you are bearing the brunt of all the funeral planning and the costs associated with it? There is almost always more to the story, and recognizing that – and giving space to – the fact that everyone grieves differently, and that it may not always show outwardly, is key. Most of the time, their behavior in a season of grief is not personal.
- Allow the family to share their feelings – even if you don’t agree with them. Communication is the cornerstone of healthy relationships. Add to that the unexpected loss of a loved one and that statement holds even more weight. Allowing your family the space to share their feelings – even if you don’t agree – can help the grieving process and avoid future blow-ups. You might be devastated at the loss of your family member, but another family member may be holding on to resentment and anger about the same death. Healing is not linear and emotions can be unpredictable when you’re in the throes of grief. Just like your emotions may not make much sense, the same holds true for your family members. Grace goes a long way in these seasons.
- Be aware of your own emotions and how they may be affecting others. Anger and outbursts are not uncommon during seasons of grief. And while everyone should be afforded the opportunity to drift (or nosedive) freely through the stages of grieving, it is important to take the necessary steps to process and work through these emotions in a healthy way without hurting loved ones also grieving the same loss, and ultimately – yourself. Lean on a trusted family member or friend to be a safe place for you to explore these emotions. Journaling is also a helpful coping mechanism that can make the process a little easier to navigate. If you are someone whose extreme sadness makes them prone to anger, irritability, or emotional outbursts, consider limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption during this time, as it can exacerbate these emotions and cause more turmoil within the family.
Learning to Live Together in Your Grief
What families often find after their loved one has passed is it’s not just about losing a family member. Sometimes families just have unresolved grief within them and it’s about learning to coexist together in your grief.
When your sibling loses their cool and flips out about the chicken the caterer delivered or because they didn’t provide enough cutlery, oftentimes – it’s not about the chicken or the cutlery. It’s about a broken heart and unmanageable emotions reaching a boiling point, and a deeply hurt person not knowing how to handle it.
Show each other grace, and remember this is something you are all navigating together. And while there are handbooks on how to deal with loss, they don’t hold a candle to what it’s like to actually experience it.
“Other things, may change us, but we start and end with the family” – Anthony Brandt
We Can Help You Navigate the Uncharted Waters of Grief
Sharon Brubaker is a certified Life Coach and credentialed Grief Specialist who teaches women who are grieving how to process their thoughts and emotions. To learn more about navigating grief within the family, listen to the full podcast episode here or download my free e-Book, The Griever’s Guide, which equips you with the tools to live life after grief; because no griever should have to navigate a broken heart on their own.