Mourning in the family

Mourning Together


The family plays a fundamental role in every moment of transition that the individual faces in his life and is a great resource that the person has in dealing with the many difficulties that arise, especially in painful situations such as the loss of a loved one. This is a time of extreme suffering for the whole family. The pain, the shock and disbelief that often accompany the tragic event – especially in cases of sudden and violent death – necessarily involve family setting changes. Losing a family member may involve, for those who remain, facing a period of instability, vulnerability and difficulties characterized by feelings of suffering, loneliness and despair.


Within the family each member will live their grief in different ways: there will be those who manage to find comfort in sharing the most intimate pain with loved ones and those who decide to live alone in their own suffering, in the belief that no one will ever fully understand it.

To family members it will remain the difficult task of understanding what happened, to make it more bearable and acceptable on an emotional level, and to acquire a new equilibrium in the absence of their loved one. For a family the reconstruction process is essential for accepting the loss (Neimeyer, 2001).


There are also arrangements that are not very effective, with which families seek to address (in a more or less conscious way) the tragic event; scholars like Bowlby and West (1983) spotted six different ways:

1) idealization of the missing person or identification with this in order not to let it go;
2) a strong entanglement between family members that does not allow them to live individually the pain of loss;
3) build a “family secret” about the loss. This happens especially when you think that the type of death can somehow dishonoring the family (eg, in cases of death by suicide);
4) role reversal and “parentification”. This happens when, for example, the children, following the loss of a parent, come to play a caring role, trying to be of help to the family, while the parent, dominated by pain, assumes the role of “the looked after”;
5) reactivation of previously unresolved grief;
6) rigidity in the observation of religious rituals that limits activities of daily living.


Each family, of course, will live the loss in a different way: there will be families that because of the event struggle to find a new balance and a new project; others that will implement an attitude of sharing and collaboration in managing and overcoming successive stages of life.


For the good management and processing of mourning could prove essential factors such as clear communication and sharing, sincere and free from own pain. Feeling supported by people who face the same negative emotions provides the person not only the sensation that they can be more understood for what they are living but also the opportunity to see the family environment as still efficient and functional, despite the difficulties the loss entails.


It is important, therefore, to emphasize the function of pain sharing among family members, since there are often conflicts around the idea that not talking about what happened may bring, with time, to forget; It comes to believe that keeping the suffering at the individual level can help lessen the pain of others or at least does not increase it. This type of behavior can be found, for example, in some children who lose a parent: they seek to conceal or minimize their pain and their sadness for a sense of protection in respect of the remaining parent, to meet, at times, an even greater suffering. The attitude of avoidance and/or denial of the pain is likely to lead the family system towards a phase of stagnation with no processing and no acceptance of the loss. This cannot allow the family to properly deal with the pain and overcome it.