When Your Family's Lost a Loved One
- Thursday, May 08, 2008
That can be awkward, even intimidating. But it can also be rewarding and strengthening. You may wonder how your family will cope with the mixture of intense emotions and needs, but grief gives you an opportunity to go deeper with each other and grow closer to each other than you were before this loss. Grief does not have to drive you apart.
What will determine if you move away from each other or draw together, whether you emerge from this crisis broken, bitter, and divided or healthy, happy, and whole? It depends on whether you are willing to identify and address grief’s impact on each member of your family—or if you chose to ignore and avoid it.
Ignorance Is Bliss?
It can seem more comfortable to ignore and avoid how grief is affecting your family as individuals and as a unit. Part of you may wish everyone would retreat to his or her own room and emotions and coping mechanisms rather than dealing with them head-on.
As humans who don’t want to hurt, we have several ways to avoid feeling the pain of grief. Maybe you recognize one or more of the following in yourself or in other members of your family.
1. Postpone. We think that if we ignore it, it will just go away. So we push it out of our minds and put it on the shelf. We don’t talk about it, hoping it will dissipate through neglect.
2. Somaticize. We become obsessed with our own health or lack thereof, using physical illness as a way to avoid our emotional pain.
3. Minimize. Using self-talk such as, “We weren’t that close, anyway,” we minimize the value of our relationship to the person who has died. By telling ourselves that our loss is not unique (“We all lose our parents at some point”), we try to convince ourselves that a common loss shouldn’t hurt so much.
4. Displace. Rather than giving energy to our grief, we give it to blame, to righting a wrong, to making someone pay.
5. Replace. Many grieving people channel their energy into causes such as passing a law, starting a foundation, or pushing for research. A cause can be an excellent outlet for honoring someone who has died, but pouring energy into a cause before the work of grief is done can derail that important process.
6. Spiritualize. While we rest and rely on the promises of Scripture to bring us comfort in our grief, the truth of heaven does not take away the pain of loss.
Do you see yourself or other members of your family avoiding grief through any of these avenues? Grief is not to be avoided or ignored. It is not something you get over so you can go on; it is something you get through.
To help your family get through it, ignoring and avoiding won’t work. You’ll need to identify and address what each person in your family is thinking, feeling, and experiencing.
To Each His Own
It hurts when others ignore or dismiss your pain. But it can also be annoying when others want to examine and meddle in it. It’s frustrating when they seem to suggest that you aren’t grieving the “right” way, or on the “right” timetable.
What feels good is when those closest to us seek to understand our pain and even share it. This is what helps a family in grief grow close—as family members feel that others respect their individual losses as well as their individual expressions of grief.
It can be hard to find the energy to identify and understand what others in your family are feeling and experiencing when you feel overwhelmed by your own pain. But considering the pain of others is what draws out compassion and helps us to give each other space and grace.
Consider how various losses affect different family members in differing ways.
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