Most families experience a loss at some point. Suddenly someone who was an essential part of your family is gone, and in their place is a feeling of emptiness. It can be hard to heal, especially if the loss was unexpected, but there is a path forward.
Here are some things to keep in mind if your family is grieving the loss of one of its members.
- Don’t judge or criticize. After a devastating blow, the surviving family members are in pain. This is when they need each other the most, yet it can be the hardest to get along. Emotions are running high; people are feeling sensitive. Although everyone lost the same person, that person didn’t have the same relationship with each family member, and every individual grieves in their own way. Although there is no right or wrong way to grieve, it can be challenging for family members to understand other family members who grieve differently than they do. People who grieve privately may be considered cold or insensitive; people who like to share their feelings may be judged as hysterical or oversensitive. It is essential to resist these labels. This is the time to support—not criticize—each other.
- It is okay to laugh. When someone is gone, sometimes the survivors feel guilty being happy. If your loved one can’t smile or have fun anymore, why should you? But you can, and you must, because joy is healing; laughter is healing; fun reminds you that it is good to be alive, even when not everyone you love is with you. So, watch a funny movie together or listen to a comedian, but most of all, don’t be ashamed of happiness. It’s okay to smile and enjoy your life—the person you lost would want that for you just as you want that for your loved ones.
- New memories can ease the pain of the old ones. After someone dies, holidays and occasions that you used to celebrate can become painful reminders of what you’ve lost. The empty seat at the table can be devastating, as can carrying on the traditions you used to have when your loved one was alive. While it is important to remember and honor your fallen family member, it’s also okay to make new memories and start new traditions. Maybe the first year after the loss, you eat your holiday dinner at a restaurant you’ve never been to before or have someone new host. Maybe this year, you don’t eat the same traditional meal, you get takeout or cook something different. Perhaps this year, you decide to get out of town and take a day or overnight trip. A new location can often bring a new perspective. The point is to have compassion for yourself and your family members—if something is too painful, skip it and do something else instead. You can face it later when you’re stronger; it is okay if you’re not there yet.
One of the hardest things about grief is that it does not have an end date. Life is different after loss, and it takes some people more time than others to find their new normal. Therapists can help, friends can help, but family members can help one another, too. Even though you are all in pain, you have each other, and the load can feel slightly lighter if you carry it together.
Amanda Rowe lives in New Jersey with her two beloved children. She is a freelance writer, an academic administrator, an amateur chef, a travel enthusiast, and a book hoarder. Amanda loves anything with peanut butter as an ingredient and is determined to make the world a better place. Visit her at www.amandarowewrites.com.