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Coping as a Family

The death of a loved one plunges entire families into the myriad of experiences and emotions that we call grief. Coping with the grief of a family takes patience, respect, and a commitment to communication.

Grieving people typically have little tolerance for the daily hassles of life. A spilled glass of milk or lost keys can seem like the very last straw to someone with a broken heart. It really does not seem fair that anything else bad - no matter how small or insignificant -- should happen in the life of a grieving person. Unfortunately, the world does not seem to operate on any apparent "Fairness Principle" and we continue to be bombarded with daily hassles that look like momentous events through the eyes of grief.

barnFamilies are both wonderful sources of support, and also an excellent source of daily hassles. The virtue of patience is especially important in the life of a grieving family. Knowing that we are tender and short-fused with sorrow, it is helpful to remind ourselves to be patient with members of our family and with ourselves.

Family members will grieve in different ways and respect for this reality is very important. It is not helpful to attempt to control or interpret the grief experience of another person, especially a family member. Each member of your family deserves to handle his/her grief in his/her own way, and acceptance of this conveys respect both for the person and the unique significance of the loss s/he has incurred.

Respect for the unique needs of individual family members also conveys an understanding that people express their sorrow and pain in different ways. This understanding can reduce feelings of isolation in a family because understanding fosters acceptance and connection.

Finally, effective communication can help a family cope with a shared loss. Talk about the one who has died, use his/her name in conversations, and be open with grief feelings, thoughts and experiences. Convey support in non-verbal ways - a hug or a little note when a family member is having a particularly rough time. Set aside time each week to talk about the loss of your loved one, how life is different, what is missed about that person, or just share ideas for coping. This time does not have to be a depressing experience - share funny stories about your loved one, watch family videos, write in a family journal, make scrapbook pages, or make a family list of the dumbest things that people have said to you since your loved one died. Effective communication takes practice, but it is essential to a family coping with the death of a loved one.

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