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How Does Grief Affect the Family?

A death doesn't affect individuals in isolation. The family as a whole is impacted by the death. Roles, traditions and daily routines all change, as family members work to discover how they all fit together in light of the hole now in their midst. The family as a whole, like each individual in it, must work to discover what their "new normal" is.

The death of a family member turns the lives of everyone in a family upside down. It also turns the family itself upside down. The absence of the loved one affects every aspect of a family's existence. From the time of the death forward, everything changes — nothing is ever the same again. What was once whole is now broken.

Dealing with grief within a family brings difficult challenges. Each member is trying to manage their own feelings while being impacted by the reactions of the rest of the family. Parents and children, brothers and sisters, and spouses may collide with one another as they search for new ways to relate.

What was once known is now unknown:

  • Roles change — where there were two parents there is now a single parent; a set of siblings has become an only child; a middle child is now the oldest child; grandma and grandpa become mom and dad.
  • Traditions change — homemade birthday cakes become store bought; Christmas dinner is now eaten at a restaurant; anniversaries are no longer celebrated.
  • Daily routines change — dinner is now eaten in front of the television; the house is quieter; mom cuts the grass now; dad cooks dinner.

So often after a death, finding a way to talk about the heartache is difficult. It's hard to know how to start the conversation with one another and when to talk. But the family as a whole has the same needs as each individual does — to discover for the family what is lost, what is left and what is possible.

As each individual discovers what their own "new normal" is, so will the family discover its new normal as well.


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