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What is Family Grief?

By S. Gonzales
Updated May 17, 2024
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Family grief is simultaneous bereavement that is experienced by a family. It usually results from the loss of a close family member. Any death can cause a family to experience grief reactions, but traumatic or unexpected deaths can be especially hard on a family. Family grief usually demands that family members accept the loss, define what the loss means to them, acknowledge differences in grieving processes and come together to meet the needs of surviving members.

A common facet of family grief involves defining what the loss means to individual family members. These distinctions can be kept personal, but the course of grief can be affected by such conclusions. Determining how the loss affects a specific person can be an essential part of recovering from it. The process of determining individual meaning, however, can build conflict within families as each person struggles to cope and make sense of his or her resulting new roles in the family.

Although a family can be simultaneously experiencing grief over the loss of a family member, not all family members can grieve in the same way. Each family member can go through the stages of grief at his or her individual pace. The methods of showing and dealing with grief can vary, as well. The age and gender of those grieving can influence how they grieve. A child, for example, can grieve very differently from a parent.

When a traumatic loss occurs, it's not difficult to imagine that the family could experience chaos. Individual family members will try to accept the death, but they'll also have to accept the new circumstances of their family life. This can include the re-delegation of duties and responsibilities that were once the deceased's. Individual family members all experience the loss at the same time, so the support that the family could hypothetically provide if the loss were outside the family is compromised. During family grief, family members might find it difficult to lean on each other for support, because each family member is grieving on a personal level.

Family grief can be especially difficult to overcome if there are other, complicating factors involved. Personal, unresolved issues and public business left behind by the deceased can result in a longer coping process. Grieving processes by certain family members that inspire more grief from the others can also affect a family's dynamics.

To successfully cope with family grief, families must accept the loss, acknowledge the different grieving patterns of family members, come together to see that needs of the family are still being met and modify their understanding of the family to reflect the loss. A death can be heart-wrenching, but it doesn't necessarily have to mean the disintegration of a family. Dealt with appropriately, family grief can actually bring the surviving family members closer together.

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