Coping with Loss & Grief

Grief & Family

Module 3 page 2

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

Norman Cousins

All families are different. There are differences in culture, customs, religion and personality types that have a bearing upon the reaction to grief. The key to family recovery is to allow for individual differences .

Nothing undermines family unity and structure more than the expectation that all family members should be able to grieve in the same way and at the same pace.

Unresolved personal losses complicate the adjustment to the present loss.
Often at the time of a family loss many people are experiencing complicated anxiety provoking events in their lives which are overlooked because of the overwhelming nature of the immediate loss. These unresolved personal losses complicate the adjustment to the present loss. If these complications are not dealt with they can have a devastating effect upon family unity.

There is usually a fragile, high risk person in every family
Discerning family members need to understand that there is usually a fragile, high risk person in every family. That person needs help rather than criticism.

Fragile Behaviour

High risk people are subject to deep depression

It is essential that high risk people be given adequate support. The support must come early and be long-term.

The worst thing that can happen to a grieving person is to feel cut off from his or her family. (Family can also include their church) Ready and open communication within the family will help with the necessary adjustment, and inhibit the process of the feeling of being cut off.

"They're too young to understand." is a common statement about children who suffer loss. In a family that suffers a great loss, children are too often overlooked. They may not understand all the implications, but they have tender feelings.

Children are not too young to have feelings of loss
Research shows that children from six months to adolescence respond similarly to loss as adults. It is now recognised that children can be far more sensitive to the conditions that precede, surround and follow a major loss. While chronological age and maturity play a big part in childhood adjustment, the child's environment is far more influential.

What the child is told is important
Children must hear the truth. A little boy asked why his "Granny" died. A man standing nearby said, "Sonny, your granny died because God needed another angel." The boy was disturbed. He thought for a while and then said, "Why would God take my Granny when heaven was already full of angels?"

Setting the pattern for a child's grief
How and what a child is told sets the pattern for the child's grief. Children will fantasise longer if euphemisms are over used

Children can fear going to bed if the term "sleep" is used for death. Or, the term "gone away" can suggest to a child, that when another loved one is about to go away somewhere, he or she is about to die.

When the child is told has a great bearing on the grief process
Children who are not told can't understand the behaviour and expressions of other family members. For instance, children who are not told of the death of a grandparent for months, are left to enter the first stages of grief alone when they find out. By then the rest of the family has already made substantial recovery and is unaware of the child's needs. All kinds of negative emotional behavioural responses can develop in a child because of this and in most cases the family does not recognise the cause.

Good relations with the deceased are important
Children handle the grief process well when their relationships with the missing person were rewarding

It is not unusual for a child to blame himself or herself for the death when the relationships were poor.

If adults in the child's world don't talk about the death, never show their emotions, or are insensitive to the emotions and reactions of the child, then the child's rate of adjustment is impeded and the grief process retarded.

If a child has lost a parent, stable care must be given to the child by as few people as possible
It is essential for children to receive
plenty of touching, holding , stroking and constant reassurance that their needs will be met. Those who care for the child need to be those who have been the most significant persons to the child outside of their lost parent, and with whom they have had the most rewarding relationships in their past.

A child grief process can be postponed, or damaged, if the child is carelessly taken from one place to another.

Homesickness in grief is a significant factor
The child who doesn't experience intimate and open relationships during early grief can easily develop coping behaviours that are harmful and find it difficult to cope with substantial losses throughout life.

The weakening and disintegration of the family structure in Australia makes children who suffer loss today, vulnerable tomorrow, because of no family support. The numbers are increasing of young people who need pastoral care and counselling because they are still angry about rejection and abandonment that took place in their childhood.

We have children who hurt inside but no longer cry

We have a society of children who run away from home, develop phobias, over eat, won't eat, become hyperactive, wag school and vandalise whatever they can lay their hands on because that's how they feel inside ... broken. Families that have lost family closeness will find these patterns common among their children.

Larry Yeagley tells of a grandmother and Jeb, her four year old grandson, who came to his office for help when her husband died. While grandma talked, the hyperactive boy explored every cupboard in the room, climbed on and over every chair, and raced his toy car at high speed across the carpet.

One day the counsellor took the boy in his lap and asked him if he would like to talk about his grandfather. The child readily told how he and his grandpa went fishing together, ate breakfast at 'Randy's Place', played ball together and went riding in the van. He told about grandpa's sickness and death. He told how he cried when his grandpa was sick. He had some tears running down his cheeks as he told how they put his grandpa 'under the ground.'

Larry hugged him closely for a few minutes before he slid off his lap. The little boy lay on the floor pushing his toy car. The car went slower and slower until he fell sound asleep.

During each of the following visits Larry and Jeb had their 'little chat.' Every time, the child curled up on the rug beside Larry's chair and went to sleep. No one can ever convince Larry Yeagley that children need less attention than adults when it comes to grieving.

Adolescents on an "express train to independence"
The media, schooling, working parents, consumer marketing magnates all set adolescents on a pathway of independence (mostly before maturity) which makes it difficult for them to know how to lean on others during grief. Denial of sad feelings ("I'm OK") and aloofness from family is very common.

Grief in adolescents that has not been dealt with, results in a wide variety of behaviours such as brushes with the law, running away from home, drug and alcohol abuse, truancy, rebellion etc. all of which are very troublesome to adults, particularly their parents. Adolescents will sometimes confide in their peers but they mostly keep their feelings to themselves. These buried feeling often show up as antisocial behaviour or lay behind physical and/or emotional illness .

Support for teenagers requires a gentle, non-confrontive, low-key approach
Helpers need to be patient, friendly, open and willing to share himself or herself with the grieving adolescent.

Here are six things to say to grieving adolescents which does not threaten their independence.

When students understand the grief process they are less likely to avoid their grieving fellow students.

It would be beneficial if death and dying classes for high school students where readily available.

If children and adolescents need special care and attention in grief, then, so do the elderly. Why do we fondly touch and cuddle the young and neglect to do the same for those coming to the end of life?

When elderly people grieve they need intimacy
They need to talk about their feelings and reminisce about the past. There is a song that says, "Folks don't kiss old people any more." What a tragedy. Kissing, talking and hugging is what the elderly need.

When a family grieves, openness and honesty are essential. Some children will refuse to talk about a dead parent. Be patient. Say, "I'll never push you to talk. I just want you to know I will be here to listen and share when you're ready."

Difficulties can arise when a parent has made progress in grieving over the loss of a spouse but the family has not.

Often a crisis develops if the parent decides to remarry
A child can show the grief at that point and become angry with the parent because he or she doesn't appear to share the same emotional distress. The assumption that the parent didn't really love the spouse is not unusual. The parent needs to share about life with their spouse and their personal grief experiences at the loss.

Faith Matters

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