By Chaplain Julia Rajtar, MAPS, BCC
When a loved one dies, we often turn to family members to support us in our grief. Those who know us best should be able to support us in our time of pain and sorrow. Much to my astonishment, this is not always the case.
Though family members care about each other and try to be supportive, they do not always have the skills or means. Sometimes they too are grieving the death of that person and can’t be supportive. Each person will grieve in their own way, simply because people from the same family are not grieving the same way, does not mean they aren’t grieving. Sometimes, because emotions are heightened, a divide occurs and family members cannot be supportive for a period of time. Our relationship with the deceased also has an impact on our grieving. At a grief group, one of the bereaved shared that there were two different perceptions of how her mother died. The bereaved’s brother stated that their mother gave up, while the bereaved shared that mom didn’t give up, she let go. Mom’s kidneys were no longer functioning, the heart was damaged, the lungs struggled for air while most major systems were broken and no longer repairable. She said her mother made the decision to stop all treatment and let go. This perception of her mother’s death was one of the things that separated the brother and sister for a while, till they found their way through their own grief.
Close family members try to be supportive, but their efforts fall short. Rather than being present to us in our pain and silence, they feel the need to fill the void and discomfort. To the bereaved, this seems to diminish our own grief. Sometimes, the person we were closest to in the family, doesn’t know anymore how to support us or what to say or not say to be helpful. Forgiveness and a little grace go a long way. Try letting them know how we feel about them supporting us, let them know what helps and what doesn’t. Most of all, remember and share love. Ask them to be patient with you as you find your way. A bereaved shared that she could not talk with their sister after the death of her spouse. As sisters, they would visit by phone quite regularly. After her spouse died, she couldn’t talk with her sister, simply because she felt her sister was unable to provide the comfort she needed at that time. And, for her sister, life continued to move on, while for the bereaved, life came to a stop (or at least felt that way.)
Those whom we rely on the most to support us, family, sometimes say things to us, that were part of their own experiences of loss in the past, but often their statements are just that… theirs. Should family members share their own previous experience of death? When would that be helpful, if at all, to the bereaved? A bereaved shared that when her father died, over 30 years ago, no one talked about death or reached out much to others after a death. Her mother’s experience was that “You just dealt with it, privately and silently,” and because of that, her mother felt isolated, lonely and abandoned. Her mother stopped doing things with other couples, after the death of her spouse, because some married women perceived friendship with their husbands, as something more.
Whom do we turn to for support when we are grieving? The person who will sit with us in your tears, answer their phone at 2am when we are distressed, who will listen rather than give advice, who can be present and encouraging, might be a good supporter.
- Who has been support to you through your grief and loss?
- What qualities does this person have that make them a good supporter?
- What have you learned in your own experience of grief that you would be willing to share with others? And when would you share it?