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Grieving Adults & Families

A death doesn't affect individuals in isolation. The family as a whole is impacted by the death. Roles, traditions and daily routines all change, as family members work to discover how they all fit together in light of the hole now in their midst. The family as a whole, like each individual in it, must work to discover what their "new normal" is.

For adults, the death of someone close to us — spouse, child, parent or someone else we love — is so immense that it is difficult to take in. The pain of their absence is at times unbearable. Although others depend upon us, our own hearts are broken as well. We will travel our own unique grief journeys, which, although ours alone to travel, will be helped if we don't have to travel them alone.

How does grief affect the family?

The death of a family member turns the lives of everyone in a family upside down. It also turns the family itself upside down. The absence of the loved one affects every aspect of a family's existence. From the time of the death forward, everything changes — nothing is ever the same again. What was once whole is now broken.

Dealing with grief within a family brings difficult challenges. Each member is trying to manage their own feelings while being impacted by the reactions of the rest of the family. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, and spouses may collide with one another as they search for new ways to relate.

What was once known is now unknown:

  • Roles change — where there were two parents there is now a single parent; a set of siblings has become an only child; a middle child is now the oldest child; grandma and grandpa become mom and dad.
  • Traditions change — homemade birthday cakes become store bought; Christmas dinner is now eaten at a restaurant; anniversaries are no longer celebrated.
  • Daily routines change — dinner is now eaten in front of the television; the house is quieter; mom cuts the grass now; dad cooks dinner.

So often after a death, finding a way to talk about the heartache is difficult. It's hard to know how to start the conversation with one another and when to talk. But the family as a whole has the same needs as each individual does — to discover for the family what is lost, what is left and what is possible.

As each individual discovers what their own "new normal" is, so will the family discover its new normal as well.

Grieving adults

When someone we love has died, it's so hard (at times it feels impossible) to truly comprehend that they are gone from our lives forever. Yet we're faced with that reality every minute of every day. We find ourselves on an emotional roller coaster, going back and forth between intense grief and the attempt to shut out our feelings in order to deal with the tasks of living.

Mother and daughter

If a spouse has died, we've lost our best friend and companion, the parent to our children, our life's partner. No longer with us is the person we share a history with, who came to know, over time, the nuances of who we are. Gone is the person we shared the experiences of life with — the exciting and the mundane — and looked into the future with, a future that no longer exists.

The death of a child is intensely heartbreaking, as parents grieve the loss of a part of themselves. To endure the end of a life that we created brings a pain too deep for words. Our trust in the cycle of life — that people are born, live, perhaps marry and then go on into old age — has been broken. From this point on everything feels out of sync. Missing the child is unbearable at times. We miss their laughter, their tears, the ways they looked at us, the sound of their voice, the noise of them in the house, the simple knowledge that they are home. We miss the joy they brought into our hearts. When a child dies, we lose not only who they were but also hope for the future of who they would become.

The death of a parent brings with it the loss of the extension of time from the beginning of our lives to the end of theirs. Although we retain the memories, we have lost one of the few people who held the full knowledge of who we have come to be in this life. At times, the death of a parent can also bring grief over the loss of the possibility for a relationship with our mom or dad that we yearned for yet was never realized.

As grieving adults, often there are others who are depending on us. Many demands are made on us, on our time, on our energy. It's difficult to know where to turn to first. In the midst of taking care of others who need us, our minds are reeling, our own hearts broken.

Regardless of the type of death, everyone's journey of grief is unique. Although there will be similarities with others who have suffered a loss, your grief is personal to you. Many people will have well-intentioned advice about how we should grieve and how long we should grieve. In the end we have to discover for ourselves what will help us in our journey.

The supportive presence of others who understand can be a lifeline when we feel we're drowning in the anguish of missing the one we love. The importance of "grief companions" who can accompany us on our journey is great. While no one can "fix" our grief, or walk the journey for us, we don't have to walk it alone.