How To Cope With A Death In The Family

Updated January 29, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: Karen Devlin, LPC

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The death of a loved one can be one of the most trying things a person can go through. Whether it is the death of a child or the death of a parent, there's no "right answer" on how to deal with a death in the family. Everyone grieves in his or her way, and no one should feel shame for how they grieve.

The Five Stages Of Grief

You've probably heard of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, and acceptance. But did you know there are more stages to the process than that, and that not everyone feels every stage?

In addition to the chief five stages of grief, there are also resentment, yearning, and suffering, which typically occur after anger and before sadness. It is possible to feel a combination of these emotions all at once. It's not so clean-cut that you will feel each emotion separately, as the "stages" would lead you to believe. While this is the typical order in which these emotions may affect you, every person is an individual, and so everyone's grieving process is different.

One thing to keep in mind is that grief is very different from depression and that both can be experienced simultaneously. If, in addition to symptoms of grief, you may also feel worthless, helpless, and extreme guilt, and you may want to consider speaking with a professional to help manage your grief.

Grieving Process after Death of a Parent

People say that it's the "natural order" to lose a parent. After all, the child is meant to carry on the parent's legacy, and so the parent is expected to "naturally" die before his or her children, as this is the "natural order" of things. This is no comfort, though, as it is never easy to lose a parent.

In particular, if you were your parent's caretaker toward the end of his or her life, you may feel a profound sense of relief that you no longer have to care for them anymore. It is natural to feel guilty or upset about this feeling of relief, though some people feel such a deep need to continue to care for someone that they try to continue acting as a caretaker for members of their own family. While this may sound harmless, it may cause you to delay dealing with your grief.

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This is especially true for those who must care for the second parent after the death of the first. You may put all of your energies into making sure your second parent is okay, so much so that you neglect your own emotions.

If you have already lost a parent, and you are now grieving the loss of your other parent, this grief can become compounded by unforeseen complications. For instance, siblings often drift apart after the loss of a parent, as the parent - especially an ill parent - may have served as the focal point for all of the siblings. Once the parent is gone, the siblings may go their ways, too, which results in the grieving of the loss of not just a parent, but other family members as well.

Grieving Process after Death of A Sibling

Losing a sibling is like losing a family member and a long-term friendship all at once. Siblings are there for each other for the entirety of their lives, experiencing every up and down together, so to lose a sibling can feel like losing your left arm. If the sibling lost was the elder sibling, it can also feel like losing a protector and a role model. A sibling can also serve as a confidant, and you may feel like you can't trust anyone now that your sibling is gone.

Some siblings are not so close, and so the emotions involved in losing a sibling may be more complicated for one family than another. Siblings may not be on speaking terms at the time of the sibling's passing, or there may be feelings of resentment or jealousy that have always driven a wedge between the siblings, and that the surviving sibling or siblings must now confront in addition to their grief.

The surviving sibling or siblings may also experience a shift in the role(s) they play within the family. For instance, if the eldest sibling dies, that means the remaining siblings become the new eldest and middle sibling, or maybe even just an only child with no sibling at all. This can present a significant shock to the family order.

It is also normal to fear to die from the same thing your sibling died from. For example, if your sibling died from cancer, then it is normal to fear that you or another member of your immediate family could also be diagnosed with cancer someday. However, most forms of cancer are the result of other factors, such as environmental or toxic exposures. While most cancers are not inherited, it is important to remain vigilant about early screenings, whether there is a history of cancer in your family or not.

Grieving Process after Death Of A Child

The death of a child is one of the hardest things anyone can ever have to go through in life. What remains true for the loss of anyone is especially true for the loss of a child. Don't let anyone tell you how to grieve, or when your grief period needs to be up by. The same goes for your spouse. Many marriages fall apart after the death of a child because spouses have difficulty understanding each other's grieving process. It's important to remember that everyone is an individual, and so everyone grieves differently.

This may mean that while the mother may want to take as much time off of work as possible and spend days just lying in bed crying, the father may instead choose to throw himself into work - not to be away from his wife, but because working is the only way he can cope with the overwhelming pain. This may not be a way of delaying grief, but instead a way of handling it.

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Something important to remember is that you may remain numb for the first year after the loss of a child. The second year, however, the numbness begins to wear off, and you may experience more powerful grief than ever before. This is normal.

Immediately following the death of a child, you may want to sell your house, file for divorce, or take on some other major life event. It is recommended that you wait at least a year to do so. It may be difficult to see all of those daily reminders of a child who is no longer with us, but it is important that you take the time to evaluate every aspect of a major life event before embarking on it.

Some people adopt a "life is short" mentality and feel that their current situations are holding them back, but this may be another aspect of the grieving process, and you don't want to do anything now that you'll regret later on.

Grieving Process after Death of a Spouse

You may feel like you can't go on after the death of a spouse. You may find it comforting once the initial stages of grief have passed to do something to keep your spouse's memory alive. For example, you may want to regularly partake in an activity that the two of you used to do together. You can also take flowers to his or her grave and spend a few moments talking with them. This may feel silly for some people, but it can be rather cathartic.

Above all, it is important to remember that you will feel normal again with time. It is important to feel your grief and not to rush the grieving process. Don't feel like you have to jump into a new relationship right away, or even a year later. Conversely, if you find someone new that you want to spend time with, don't let anyone make you feel guilty that it's "too soon" after the death of your spouse to find love again. Everyone is an individual, and everyone grieves in their way and in their own time.

Inspirational Quotes about Death Of A Loved One

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Sometimes, it can be helpful to read some inspirational quotes after the death of a loved one. Such quotes can also say what you are otherwise unable to put into words when writing out a sympathy card. Here are some touching quotes that may help you, or that you may be inspired to use to help someone else:

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." - Norman Cousins

"What is lovely never dies, but passes into other loveliness." - Thomas Bailey Aldrich

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

"Words, however kind, can't mend your heartache, but those who care and share your loss wish you comfort and peace of mind." - Unknown

"What we have once enjoyed we can never lose; all that we deeply love becomes a part of us." - Helen Keller

Are you having difficulty coping with a death in the family? You may want to consider reaching out to one of our licensed counselors, who are available 24/7 to listen and to help.

Sources:

http://bereavementireland.com/guides/grieving-the-death-of-a-parent-in-adult-life/

https://www.wikihow.com/Survive-the-Death-of-Your-Child

https://www.wikihow.com/Live-After-the-Death-of-a-Spouse

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you cope with the death of a family member?

Coping with the death of a loved one is unquestionably one of the most challenging things a person will ever have to go through. Losing family members is one of the biggest fears held by most people, and the truth is that everyone has a different way of coping with grief. That said, two ways to cope that tend to be universally important are grief support and processing your feelings. Grief support is crucial, and if you are coping with grief or the pain of grief and loss, it’s vital that you have ways to cope that don’t leave you fully isolated. You can find support groups, reach out to loved ones such as other family members and friends, or talk to a mental health professional such as a therapist or counselor. Additionally, if you know someone who is processing the death of a loved one, make sure to check in on them and consider conducting acts of care such as cooking meals for them. Give them space when needed, but do not stop checking in.

What are the 5 stages of grief when dealing with a death in the family?

The five stages of grief for those coping with the loss of a family member or the death of a loved one are the same as the five stages of grief related to any other form of loss. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Healing isn’t linear, and it’s common for people to revisit the different stages of grief during the grieving process. For example, someone might reach the depression stage and return to anger temporarily. 

How long does it take to recover from a death in the family?

Various sources conclude that there is no set amount of time that it takes to recover from the death of a loved one. When it comes to grief coping is different for everyone, but it is also important to note the existence of complicated grief one answering this question. The criteria for complicated grief exists in the DSM-5. What complicated grief refers to, essentially, is an ongoing and pervasive form of grief that impacts people severely and often makes it difficult to focus on anything save for the loss of a loved one. For those facing complicated grief or the symptoms of complicated grief, the pain of grief and loss does not seem to subside, alleviate itself, or improve. Symptoms of complicated grief include rumination, intense sorrow, bitterness, trouble accepting the loss, a lack of trust in other people, the inability to enjoy life or think back on good times, trouble functioning or carrying out your routines and obligations, believing that you could have prevented the passing, and again, trouble focusing on anything except for the loss. By no means is this an extensive list, but if you are struggling to cope with complicated grief or unresolved grief and loss, therapy or counseling can help. 

What are the 7 stages of grieving?

Rather than going by the five stages of grief, some people say that there are actually seven stages of grief or more. The seven stages of grief are said to be denial, pain and guilt, anger, bargaining, depression, reconstruction, and acceptance and hope. 

What does grief do to your body?

There are physical symptoms of grief. Mental and physical health goes together, so it only makes sense that the pain of grief and loss would impact the body. Grief and loss can impact your immune system. You might also experience fatigue, body aches, and inflammation among other symptoms. 


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