In families – especially those families who consider themselves quite close and mutually supportive – the emergence of different grieving patterns often causes great confusion and distressing tensions between family members. The expectation is that each family member will grieve in the same way, at the same time, and each member will always be available to understand and give support “on call”. When this does not occur, there is immense fear that the family is disintegrating. Often blame is loaded on top of this basic fear (“X doesn’t care!”), or (from parents in particular) often terrible guilt is felt at not being able to always support and hold the family together.
And usually all this occurs basically because the reality is that each family member will grieve differently. Some will grieve by expressing intense feelings; others will become very practical and look at specific issues that need dealing with and seemingly will be ignoring feelings. Some will grieve in short bursts, others will grieve intensely for long periods, etc, etc…
On top of these basic pattern differences is the fact that adults will grieve differently to adolescents and young children, and men will commonly grieve differently to women. Without understanding the natural differences in grieving patterns, it is not surprising there is the potential for toxic meltdowns.
Most families eventually work out what is happening, and learn to work around the different ways people are expressing their grief. Too often, however, the residual hurt lingers on and slows the ability of individuals to move on. And in some cases the hurt is never resolved and family members remain estranged.
On the question of the whole family attending counselling, first of all, those who attend must want to, but it is our experience that meeting as a group with a good professional can provide the opportunity for family members to air their confusions, frustrations, hurts and expectations, and have the very natural differences in reactions explained. And most importantly, we have observed that with understanding comes relief, loss of guilt feelings, less inner tension, and most noticeably families report suddenly becoming closer and more able to provide support to each other.
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