When a family member dies, relationships change within the family. There is someone missing, an empty chair at the table, a role unfilled, future plans forever altered. When the person who died is a parent leaving a spouse and adult children, often the attention in the family turns to the remaining parent. Adult children may worry about the remaining parent, who is all the more precious because of the death.
People are often puzzled by the support or lack of support they get from others following a death. "I thought she would be there for me but she hasn't reached out once," or, "I hardly know him but he has been there for me at times when I was overwhelmed and needed a shoulder to lean on."
When someone you love dies, grief often includes feelings of guilt. "I should have...
I could have...I would have...Why didn't I...? Why didn't he...?", are normal and common questions bereaved people ask themselves. Often these questions stick in the mind and play over and over. There is the guilt about things you wish you had done, things you wish you had not done, things you wish you had said, things you wish you had not said.
Recognize that it can be hard to make decisions and that the bereaved may change his or her mind about schedules or activities. Accept the need for flexibility and last-minute changes in plans.
Allow for the expression of emotions. Listen, listen, listen. Be present. It may be important for the person to tell the story of the relationship, the illness and the death, and to do this more than once. Emotions are varied and complex in grief. Allowing someone to voice their anger, sadness, regret, guilt, fear, and emptiness - along with their good memories of the deceased - is a way to help them.
There are common patterns in the ways in which men and women each experience and express grief.
Each person is an individual and not everyone fits these patterns. However, it is helpful to understand typical patterns when seeing how family members and friends respond to the death of a loved one.
Everyone grieves at his or her own pace, intensity, style, and rhythm. Difficulties can arise when other family members and friends do not react and cope in the same way and this can result in assumptions, misunderstandings, and tension.