Grieving as a family: 5 ways to cope with grief

When your family is grieving a loss, whether, of a pet, a friend, or a family member, a lot of different emotions, reactions, and coping mechanisms will come out, and may happen at different paces for different members of the family. Grief will look different for everyone and it’s important to be mindful of this when grieving as a family but may include shutting down, crying, sleeping more, struggling to sleep, overeating, a loss of appetite, angry outbursts, irritability, numbness, depression, and denial.

When grieving as a family, some members might want to talk about the loss of a loved one, whereas others would rather not talk about it at all. Some of you might want to be around the family all the time, whereas others will prefer their own space and want to be alone. Some people struggle to accept a loss and may find themselves in a state of denial, which is a way of protecting themselves from the pain of what has happened. Others are better equipped to start moving towards accepting what has happened. 

Grief can happen in families in a lot of different ways, and no family will experience it in quite the same way. For some, grief can cause feelings of conflict, discomfort, and frustration in the family. Grieving as a family gives rise to different ways members of the family experience and process their grief which can also be a challenge.

You may feel frustrated with someone who is grieving differently from you, or feel worried that you are not grieving ‘correctly’ yourself. You might just feel overwhelmed by just how much emotion there is in the family and how much others might need you. Grief will never be easy for anyone, but with these tips, you will be better able to support each other as a family, and avoid those feelings of frustration with each other. 

Grieving as a family: 5 ways to cope with grief

Respect different forms of grief

One of the most important things to remember is that there is no such thing as the right or perfect process of grieving. In a home that is full of people trying to process the loss of someone you all love, some family members might be feeling concerned about the way that grief has hit them, and be worried that their process of mourning isn’t the right one. Some of the family might compare the way that they have responded to grief to other family members and end up making themselves guilty or end up judging the way that others have reacted to the death. 

Remember that you need to give yourself the space to grieve in whatever way comes naturally to you. Your family members need that space for themselves too, even if their process of grieving seems strange to you. Try to respect whatever process works for them; they might find comfort in burying themselves in the practical details of handling the aftermath of a death, like sorting out wills or choosing cremation urns. They might become stoic or silent, they might cry all the time, want to talk, or find themselves telling jokes to try to lighten the mood. Remember that we can’t see how another person feels inside. There are lots of different ways to heal, and all of them are valid. If the way someone else is grieving is making you uncomfortable, for example, if they want to talk about it and you don’t feel ready to do so, notice it and leave the room. Try not to make the other person feel bad about the way that they are grieving, as long as they’re not hurting anyone with it.

Respect different paces of grief

For some people, grief can completely overtake them in the aftermath of a loss. For other people, what has actually happened might not sink in for a few weeks or even for several months. If a loved one has died after suffering from a long and drawn-out illness, such as Alzheimer’s, some members of the family may have begun the process of grieving that person before the death has actually occurred, which can make processing it more complicated. For others, the news might only be absorbed when the person has actually died. People will process grief in many different ways and will grieve at different paces. This is normal, and there is no wrong way or time for grief to happen. Try to keep this in mind when you’re grieving as a family and when you notice that someone has a different style of grieving than you do. Try to have patience for different responses. 

Make room for feelings

An important part of respecting different forms of grief and grieving as a family is making room for the feelings of others in the family, even if you can’t really understand them. If you’re a parent, it can be very difficult to help children understand and come to terms with death. Talk to them about their feelings and respect however they feel. Make sure they understand that it is ok to feel sad about what has happened, that it is ok to not feel that they understand what has happened and that it’s also ok to feel ok. You can help your family through this difficult process by making sure that everyone has the room to feel their feelings and have different experiences of grief. Grief can be very confusing, no matter what your age is, and nobody really knows exactly how it should look. If you feel able t check in with others in the family, this can be helpful to do, so others have some space to talk about how they’re feeling. Having the permission to have complicated, messy feelings after a death is a very important part of the process of healing, whether you feel angry, sad, or relieved.  

Set some boundaries

It’s important to set some boundaries to look after yourself, even if you are trying to support those around you grieving as a family. It is very important to remember that other members of your family also need to do this, and might be able to meet all of each other’s needs at all times while they are grieving. All of you need to know what you are able to give right now and feel ok if you don’t feel able to give much just now. Support from your family can provide a lot of comforts, not everyone will feel able to support others and help them through their own pain. This is ok. 

Everyone needs to look after themselves before they are effectively able to care for others. We don’t do anyone any favors by pushing ourselves when we don’t feel up to do it and ended up feeling overwhelmed. If a family member comes to you asking for support and you don’t feel ready or able to offer the kind of support that they need, you can tell them, “I can see that you are hurting a lot right now. I’m hurting too. I want to be here for you, but I didn’t have the emotional capacity to do that right now.” Try not to feel guilty for doing this. You can’t help them if you don’t feel able to do so. It will seem hard to say no to someone, but you need to care for yourself first, and others second. The difference to this rule will be young children, who may need more help understanding what has happened, and may have a lot of questions that shouldn’t be left unanswered. Try to find ways to help them that don’t hurt you further. 

Seek outside help

Sometimes you will need help from outside the family, especially if you are struggling to cope. A therapist is usually the person who is best equipped to help you to worth grief at your own pace, in a healthy way. Seeking professional help after a loss is nothing to feel ashamed of. It is a healthy decision to make, and their help can help you to work through a loss with some proper support, even if your family doesn’t feel ready or able to offer the support that you need right now.  

Grief can be a very messy process and can be very uneven. It can hit a family in lots of very unpredictable ways, so it is very important to be able to respect and accept how different members of the family react and process. When families are able to make room for all the different forms of grief, they are better able to create an environment that honors the process and leaves room to deal with grief however they need to. 

You can better support each other through these difficult times by understanding how differently grief can hit different people and respecting how others cope with it. Try to be honest with each other about what you need and what you’re feeling, and be prepared for some family members to need to retreat from you and need their own space to grieve. Grief will never be something easy to go through, but with understanding, you can ease some of the pain. 

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