Don't Grieve Alone - You are a Family

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Every family experiences loss at some point.  Death, separation, divorce, accident, disability, or similar other events disrupt the family cycle some time.  After the loss, not just one member, but the whole family becomes incomplete--not just the nuclear family, but the extended family as well.  The vacuum created by the lost person penetrates into survivors' relationships with one another.   In order to become a cohesive family again, survivors must mourn and learn to deal with the loss as a family unit.  

 Loss is not necessarily all bad.  Loss can strengthen survivors and bring them closer together but loss can also lead to dysfunction and sometimes disintegration of a family.  When family members grieve as a family and nurture and support one another during the grieving, they can come out of grief as stronger.  When family members avoid and suppress expression of grief or grieve in isolation, they get stuck in the past and into the never ending pain of loss.  Such a family has the potential for becoming weaker and dysfunctional.   

 Modern society encourages privatization of grief.  Privatization of grief tends to suppress expression of grief.  Greater victims of this cultural emphasis are men.  Someone said,  "in our society, men carry the cascade, women carry the grief."   Grievers use every caution to not embarrass their sympathizers.  One obstacle to grief resolution is the pressure a society puts on survivors to stay strong and return to "business as usual" as soon as  possible.  This leaves little time for family members to complete the grieving and integrate the loss in their life.  A corporate executive told me that the part he hated most after his father's death was others' attitude of "let's get on with it."  He said his fellow executives would dispense their condolences in a somewhat rushed manner and come right quickly to the business at hand, "Joe, sorry to hear about your father's death. (After ten seconds pause) When can we get together to finalize the dates for project X?"    

 A word about loss is also in order.  We tend to view loss rather narrowly.  Obviously, death of a loved one is the greatest loss, but miscarriages, stillbirths, and abortions are also death.  They are not "visible"  to the outsiders, nonetheless, they are forms of death.  Non-death losses consist of separation, divorce, chronic illness, disability, injury, birth of a disabled child, loss of a job or income, loss of a home, disappearance of a person with no whereabouts, emotional cut-off from a relative or a friend, loss of a pet, etc..  More subtle and nonvisible losses are the loss of dreams and expectations.  A woman told me that her biggest loss was the loss of her childhood.  Having worked with many adults who were abused as children and received little or no caregiving at that tender and needy age, I understand why that felt as the biggest loss to her.  

 The losses that are particularly difficult to deal with are the sudden death such as one due to violence or accident, death after protracted illness, and uncertain death.  Not knowing whether a person has died or not, such as in the case of an abducted or missing child is tortuous.  Death immediately after a disagreement or a conflict induces obsessive guilt and remorse.  

  When family members don't acknowledge their loss and mourn adequately, they can get stuck in their grief.  They may get locked in the memories of the past, experience sadness, anxiety, and anger in the present, and avoid preparing for the future.  Some feel numb beyond the initial period of numbness and stop feeling any feelings, be they positive or negative.  Some continually blame themselves or someone else for the loss.  Such behaviors may cut them off from other survivors.  In another family, members may rely too heavily on a particular member  or members to make up for the loss rather than take active part in supporting one another and growing from their loss.       

 Here is a list of signs that tell whether a family has worked through loss in a healthy and positive way.  When family members:  1.  Correctly remember the dates of the loss  2.  Are comfortable talking about the bereaved and the circumstances of the death.  3.  Can recall both good and bad memories.  4.  Hold no bitterness towards one another and are not estranged from one another over the loss.  5.  Visit the grave on special occasions.  6.  Feel okay to make a mention of the deceased, when appropriate. 7.  Hold  no secrecy around the cause or circumstances of death.  8.  Don't feel stigmatized by the death.  9.  Cherish without hesitation or embarrassment something of the lost person, such as a personal article, picture, or a memorabilia.  10.  Freely acknowledge qualities or characteristics they share with the lost person, such as, his or her traits, a personal example set by the loved one, or a pet saying of his or hers.  

Return to Self Help 

Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



Click for Dr. Sharma's credentials
Dr. Vijai Sharma
Your Life Coach
By Telephone

Feedback- Let us know how we are doing

Terms and Conditions

Web site designed and maintained by Chanda Taylor