Each person in a family may feel shattered when a loved one dies, but death can also shatter a family.
People grieve very differently. Some may be highly emotional. Others may have physical complaints or be unable to sleep. Still others may “get busy and stay busy.” These individual differences can make it challenging for family members to understand or empathize with each other.
Strained interpersonal dynamics can damage relationships.
Death can disrupt normal family patterns but interpersonal dynamics can damage relationships. Facing hard decisions during medical emergencies can spark conflicts with those who have different beliefs and priorities. Illness and death may expose old family secrets. Disputes over money and property are common sources of hostility. Ancient sibling rivalries can manifest themselves again as adults compete for influence. Issues that have been dormant for decades may come to a head in a time of collective stress.
These secondary losses can cause their own kind of grief. Family, however you define it, comes with deep roots and complex patterns and as they say,
Family knows how to push your buttons because they installed them.
Time and distance can create opportunities for new perspectives and healing.
Sometimes, with time and distance, opportunities for new perspective and healing arise on their own. It may take time to understand all the moving parts of a story and to let go of a lifetime of history. Decisions made in the heat of the moment can be too bruising to re-engage until there is time for reflection.
Sometimes one family member can help mediate everyone else’s feelings and positions; other times it may be wiser to engage an outsider, professional or not. Patience, willingness and curiosity are important qualities to bring to the table when there is an opportunity for reconciliation.
Sometimes more than one member of the family is permanently lost, even though only one has died.
Family, however you define it, comes with deep roots and complexities.
Unfortunately, there are situations where no one has the skill, bandwidth or desire to address a rift. Damaged relationships may cause other family members to rest uneasily in their feelings about what happened. Relationships that are over can cause great anger, or perhaps (and sometimes secretly) relief.
Try to release any anger that may be hurting you. Take precious care of yourself if you experience deep sadness. If interactions with family members who cause stress are unavoidable in the future, get help defining how you can navigate those encounters in a healthy way.
For your own health, be realistic about what you can change and what you can’t.
Dealing with end-of-life issues can be frightening, emotional and deeply personal. Families don’t necessarily get closer when there is a death. They may actually fracture over a number of issues, and never find their ways back to each other.
You may never have a satisfying resolution to the absence of a living family member and it may always be painful. By developing a deep commitment to self-care and self-compassion however, we can learn to live more peacefully with what we cannot control.
Before founding Practically Dying, Kim Mooney worked for more than two decades within hospice where she cultivated a broad set of skills in end-of-life care, crisis intervention and grief support. Kim offers one-on-one consultations that many have found helpful in dealing with unique family situations.
If you are struggling with family issues surrounding death of a loved one… schedule a phone call with Kim.