Coping with Family Grief
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey
Understand the nature of grief and its potential impact on all aspects of your life: physical,
financial, emotional, social and spiritual. Learn how to move through grief actively and
make the process of mourning a healing one. Find support and guidance in dealing with
the many facets of grief.
Understanding Different Grieving Patterns in Your Family
By Marty Tousley, RN, MS, CS, CT
Grief is a family affair.
When one member of a family dies, the entire family is affected, as each person grieves their
own personal loss in their own unique way. Roles and responsibilities shift; relationships
change; communication and mutual support among family members may suffer. Over time,
the family must identify what the roles and functions of the lost member were, decide whose
job it will be to execute those duties now, and learn how to compensate for their absence.
Men, women and children are very different from one another, not just in personality patterns
that affect how they think, feel and behave, but also in how they grieve. When someone dies,
they will not experience or express their reactions in the same way. Failure to understand and
accept these different ways of grieving can result in hurt feelings and conflict between partners
and among family members during a very difficult time.
Personality patterns differ within a family. Differing personality patterns among family members
will affect how each one individually expresses, experiences and deals with
While we all have the capacity to think and to feel, personality research shows that
typically a person trusts and prefers one pattern of response over the other.
The Thinker's Grief Experience
Thinkers experience and speak of their
intellectually and physically. They are most
comfortable with seeking accurate information, analyzing facts, making informed decisions
and taking action to solve problems. Remaining strong, dispassionate and detached in
the face of powerful emotions, they may speak of their grief in an intellectual way, thus
appearing to others as cold and uncaring, or as having no feelings at all.
The Feeler's Grief Experience
Feelers experience a full, rich range of emotions in response to grief. Comfortable with
strong emotions and tears, they are sensitive to their own feelings and to the feelings of
others as well. Since they feel strong emotions so deeply, they're less able to rationalize
and intellectualize the pain of grief, and more likely to appear overwhelmed and
devastated by it.
Still others may experience profound
and have very strong feelings about it, but for
one reason or another are unable or unwilling to express it. Such individuals are more likely
to turn to drugs or alcohol in an effort to numb the pain of loss, or to lower their inhibitions
so they can let loose their emotions.
The Male Grief Experience
In general, when men suffer the loss of a loved one they tend to put their feelings into action,
experiencing their grief physically rather than emotionally. They deal with their loss by focusing
on goal-oriented activities, which activate thinking, doing and acting. Rather than endlessly
talking about or crying over the person who died, for example, a man may throw himself into
time-limited tasks such as planting a memorial garden or writing a poem or a eulogy. Such
activities give a man not only a sense of potency and accomplishment as he enters his grief,
but also a means of escaping it when the task is done. If a man relates the details of his loss
to his closest male friends, it's likely to be around activities like hunting, fishing, sporting events
and card games. Although a man may let himself cry in his grief, he'll usually do it alone, in
secret or in the dark - which may lead some to conclude that he must not be grieving at all.
The Female Grief Experience
Women, on the other hand, have been socialized to be more open with their feelings. They may
feel a greater need to talk with others who are comfortable with strong emotions and willing to
listen without judgment. Unfortunately, while it may be more acceptable for women in our culture
to be expressive and emotional, all too often in grief they're criticized for being too sentimental
or overly sensitive.
Children and Grief
Children grieve just as deeply as adults, but depending on their cognitive and emotional
development, they will experience and express their grief differently from the grownups around
them. Their response will depend on the knowledge and skills available to them at the time of
the loss. More than anything else, children need their parents to be honest with them. They
need accurate, factual information, freedom to ask questions and express their feelings,
inclusion in decisions, discussions and family commemorative rituals, stable, consistent attention
from their caretakers, and time to explore and come to terms with the meaning of their loss.
Allowing for Individual Differences among Family Members
The way we grieve is as individual as we are, and our own gender biases may influence how
we "read" another gender's grieving. Some females are "thinkers"
who grieve in traditionally "masculine" ways, and some males are "feelers" who
will grieve in traditionally "feminine" ways. Regardless of differences in personality,
gender and age, however, the pressures of grief are still present for all family members, and
the tasks of mourning are the same: to confront, endure and work through the emotional
effects of the death so the loss can be dealt with successfully.
must be expressed and
released in order to be resolved, and all family members need encouragement to identify and
release emotions, to talk about and share their thoughts, and to accept help and support
Marty Tousley is the creator and instructor of the Self-Healing Expressions course
The First Year of Grief: Help for the Journey.
Click button to learn more about Marty and her grief-healing course.
Copyright © 2004 Martha M. Tousley. All rights reserved. If you are interested
in publishing this article, please email .