Hospice of Santa Barbara Offers Insights into Family Grieving

By Hospice of Santa Barbara

Grieving the loss of a family member is a deeply intricate emotional journey. Shared bonds and histories make family grief especially unique. Family grief extends beyond the individual and intertwines with the collective fabric of shared experiences, roles and responsibilities.


Grieving the loss of a family member is a complex and challenging process that can be difficult for various reasons. The loss disrupts the balance within the family. This can cause relationships and dynamics to change because there is someone missing and there is a role that is unfulfilled. 


Grief is a unique and personal experience, which means the process is different for everyone. Grief may include crying, shutting down, irritability, sleeping, having trouble sleeping, overeating, struggling with appetite, moments of levity, numbness, depression and denial. Some family members may seek open discussions about the loss, while others may choose to retreat into silence. Some may find comfort in being surrounded by loved ones, while others may require solitary moments to process and cope with the grief.


“In family bereavement we typically have a grieving spouse and grieving children of the deceased parent,” said Michael Cruse, Bereavement Services Manager at Hospice of Santa Barbara. “The surviving parent is grieving their spouse or partner and all the hopes, dreams and expectations that went into that relationship. The parent is painfully aware of their children’s grief and how their expressions vary based upon their differing developmental ages and often their unique relationship with the deceased parent.”


It is common for death to change the family dynamic. This can be a result of several factors, including age, relationship, role, difference in coping mechanisms, heightened stress and emotions, and unresolved family issues which can lead to the resurfacing of past grievances.


“For families in the midst of all that pain and sorrow the surviving parent must also learn to parent through the experience of their own grief. The challenge for parents is to model for their children how to be with one’s own valid emotional life while simultaneously taking care to not overwhelm the children; thereby, creating space for their children to also grieve as a family,” said Cruse. 

Navigating the profound sorrow of losing a family member is challenging. Hospice of Santa Barbara encourages the following guidelines amidst the hardships of losing a loved one. 


Guidelines for grieving well together


Respect different forms of grief 

It’s important to recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grief. It’s common to find yourself comparing differences in grieving styles within family members, leading to feelings of guilt or judgment. The key is to grant yourself and others the space to grieve in their own unique ways. Acknowledge and respect the wide range of responses within the family and understand that each member may cope differently. 


Respect different paces of grief 

It’s crucial to recognize that grief is a deeply personal process and individuals experience grief differently and at their own pace. Some may experience an immediate sense of mourning after a loss, while for others the full impact may take weeks or even months to sink in. Understanding and respecting each family member’s response is key. 


Make room for feelings

Create space for each other’s emotions. If you’re a parent, provide reassurance to children that it is acceptable to feel sad, confused, or even okay during the grieving process. Provide a safe atmosphere. Granting permission to feel complex emotions is crucial for the healing journey.


Set boundaries 

Family members may not always be able to fulfill each other’s needs during this difficult time. While family support can be comforting, there are moments when you may feel incapable of assisting others due to your own emotional challenges, and that is fine. Prioritizing self-care is crucial. 


Seek outside help 

Seeking the guidance of a professional can be especially beneficial during the grieving process. Therapy can be a safe space to express emotions, as well as a resource for coping strategies to handle overwhelming emotions and find healthy outlets for grief. 


Hospice of Santa Barbara provides professional counseling, support groups, and patient care services free of charge to individuals and families who are grieving the death of a loved one or experiencing the impact of a life-threatening illness. Hospice of Santa Barbara also provides counseling in our offices and on 17 local elementary, junior high, and high school campuses to children and teens who are grieving the loss of a loved one. For more information about Hospice of Santa Barbara, including volunteer opportunities, call (805) 563-8820 or visit www.hospiceofsantabarbara.org.


Sources: Hospice of Santa Barbara; Psychology Today; Sytsema Funeral & Cremation Services

Hospice SB

Written by Hospice SB

Hospice of Santa Barbara’s mission is to care for anyone experiencing the impact of life-threatening illness or grieving the death of a loved one. Learn more at hospiceofsb.org

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