How to Cope With Grief and Loss in the Family

Loss and grief are very universal but also extraordinarily difficult aspects of human life. Your physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being can be profoundly impacted by these emotional processes, thus leaving you vulnerable. Even though everyone experiences loss at some point in their lives, many still struggle with how to manage their grief or help those who are in need. This is especially true when someone dies suddenly and unexpectedly.

It’s important to keep in mind the wisdom of the adage, “It’s okay that you’re not okay.” Grief is a highly individualized experience, and understanding that people may cope differently is crucial, especially in the context of family, where each member may respond to their loss in their own way, during these trying times.

What Is Grief?

Grief is a normal response to losing something. It includes the mental distress that develops when something or someone you hold dear is taken away, which frequently produces an excruciating sense of suffering. You could experience a wide range of feelings throughout this process, from shock and rage to disbelief, guilt, and intense sadness. Additionally, the psychological effects of the death of a loved one can interfere with your ability to sleep, eat, or concentrate, as well as your physical health. These are common reactions to loss, and the depth of your sorrow usually reflects the significance of the loss.

Coping with the departure of someone or something you hold dear represents one of life’s most formidable challenges. Even though it is sometimes the most severe kind of sadness, grief is not only related to the loss of a loved one. It can also be brought on by any kind of loss, such as divorce, the breakdown of a relationship, a decrease in health, the loss of a job, financial difficulties, miscarriage, retirement, the death of a pet, the denial of dearly held aspirations, or the loss of a family home.

How Long Does Grief Last?

The duration and intensity of grief vary from person to person, making it impossible to predict how long it will last. Grief can manifest as fluctuating emotions that may come and go over months or even years. 

Most people notice that the intensity of their grief eventually lessens, and they become better equipped to cope. Still, there are moments when feelings of loss resurface more intensely, often triggered by anniversaries, birthdays, or revisiting meaningful places. These emotional waves can occur without an apparent cause. While many people report that their grief becomes less acute over time, it doesn’t completely vanish, and they adapt to a life without the departed’s physical presence.

Stages of Grief

Depression can be experienced after the loss of a loved one

In 1969, Elizabeth Kubler Ross introduced what later became known as the stages of grief. Her research was originally centred on patients facing terminal illnesses, but these stages have been widely applied to various negative life changes and losses. The 5 stages of grief were originally delineated as follows:

  1. Denial: A feeling of disbelief, often characterized by thoughts that the situation can’t be happening to you
  2. Anger: Questioning why this is happening and possibly seeking someone to blame
  3. Bargaining: Attempting to make a deal to prevent the loss from occurring, often accompanied by a promise
  4. Depression: Overwhelming sadness to the point of feeling unable to engage in daily activities
  5. Acceptance: Finding peace and coming to terms with what has happened

It’s essential to recognize that experiencing any of these emotions after a loss is a natural part of the healing process. It’s a misconception that these stages must be followed in a specific order. Also, people have to cycle through stages 1 to 4 multiple times before they can ultimately find acceptance.

People may not experience them in a linear sequence, so there’s no need to worry about what you “should” be feeling or which stage you ought to be in. Importantly, Kubler Ross herself never intended these stages to be a strict framework applicable to every grieving individual. She emphasized that there is no one-size-fits-all response to loss, as each person’s grieving journey is as unique as their life experiences.

Coping With Grief and Loss

  • Recognize Loss

Acknowledge and understand that each person will have a unique experience of grief. Families should allow space for each individual to mourn in their own manner. Each person had a distinct relationship with the departed, and they will need to navigate the loss of this connection individually.

  • Acknowledge Different Ways of Mourning

How you cope with grief or loss can be expressed diversely. Not everyone will display tears or sadness. Some individuals might initially feel shocked or emotionally numb in the days or weeks following a loss. At times, a sense of relief can emerge upon the person’s passing, which could stem from their prior suffering or the complexities of the relationship. 

It’s essential to recognize that such feelings are valid, and there’s no standard way to grieve. If you’re distressed while someone else appears composed, it doesn’t imply that they are less affected or that something is wrong with you. Grief varies for each person, and its processing unfolds at different paces. Sharing your emotions is crucial, as others can only perceive the external reactions to assess how you’re coping.

  • Take Time to Reflect

Following a loss, it’s common to feel as though your world has lost its meaning. This is referred to by some experts as a “crisis of meaning,” and they’ve found that reestablishing a sense of meaning can be a healthy approach to go ahead. This can be accomplished through implementing intentional and constructive adjustments in your life, which may appear to be progress and betterment, and by using your loss as a catalyst for deep change. For example, dedicating more time and energy to spending quality moments with your loved ones can help. Journaling or reflecting on how the departed individual influenced your life can also aid in identifying and reconstructing meaning in constructive ways.

  • Talk to Someone

There is frequently a natural inclination to talk about important occurrences in our lives, such as loss. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with others, whether they be a friend, lover, coworker, or therapist, is advised, especially in the early stages of grief, in order to acquire some sense of clarity and emotional comfort. A conversation about one’s grief can lead to a deeper realization that the loss has indeed taken place, assisting in making sense of the associated emotions and experiences.

  • Spend Time as Family

Family bonding can help you process grief

Following a loss, you might find solace in solitary mourning. While taking time for yourself to process grief is crucial, it’s also important to spend time together, fostering connections and living life. Creating regular occasions for family gatherings, where you engage in activities like games, cooking, or hiking, can be a valuable part of the healing process.

  • Seek Professional Help

Many families benefit from participating in support groups for grief, either online or in-person, as well as family therapy or individual counselling. These settings offer an opportunity for family members to comprehend their own grief experiences and acquire the necessary skills on how to make peace with the death of a loved one and provide support to those who are also suffering. Additionally, informal support from friends, neighbours, and even pets can prove to be valuable during this challenging time.

Grief doesn’t come with a straightforward guide, and there are no universally applicable stages that define the path for everyone. Each family member will take their own unique path and progress at their own pace. Supporting each other means recognizing and respecting how each person mourns, and collectively finding meaning in the face of loss.

If you want professional help during these difficult times, our Barrie Therapist at Insight Centre Counselling and Psychotherapy is here for you. Call us at (647) 633-1928 to schedule a session.