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Grief and Relationships: Communicating with Family and Friends

February 01, 20248 min read

Grief is a deeply personal and often painful experience. While it's essential to give yourself the time and space to grieve, sharing your feelings and experiences with your loved ones can be a crucial step in the healing process. In this blog post, we'll explore the importance of communicating your grief with a trusted loved one, family member, colleague and friend. Unexpressed and suppressed emotions can lead to complicated grief, impacting your mental health and family relationships. Compassionate friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement. In this blog post, I'll provide some tips on how to do it effectively.

Acknowledge Your Grief 

Before you can effectively communicate your grief, it's important to acknowledge and understand it yourself. This awareness of how your grief  emotion is impacting you and of the feelings that you're experiencing is an important first step. Grief can be labelled in many different ways depending on the circumstances. For example, grief that occurs when someone has a terminal diagnosis but hasn't yet died is called anticipatory grief. Grief isn't restricted to bereavement or limited to the bereaved person. Every time something comes to an end or there is a significant change in a familiar pattern of behaviour, it can impact your heart. Did you know there are over 40 life events that can produce feelings of loss and grief?

Grief can result in producing strong feelings particularly if the family relationships were difficult or complex before the loss event. The grieving process can't start properly before you become aware of and acknowledge how you are feeling. The roller coaster of emotions may include guilt, regret, anger, bitterness and sadness, to name a few.

By recognising, clarifying and accepting your feelings, you'll be better equipped to convey them to your loved ones.

Choose the Right Time and Place

When you're ready to share, about your grief and how it has impacted you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, with trusted colleagues, family and friends, choose an appropriate time and place. Find a quiet and comfortable setting where you can have an open and honest conversation without distractions. It's also essential to ensure that your loved ones are in the right frame of mind and have time to listen and offer support.

I remember after the loss of my older brother, I will start pouring my heart out to anyone who ask me how I was. I was so intent on offloading what was on my heart that I often didn't stop to check if they were the right person, it was the right place and time. I remember meeting someone I knew in a shop. I hadn't seen him for a while and he made the mistake of asking me how I was. I remember pouring my heart out and after some time noticed him shuffling on the spot trying to be polite! It was obviously not the right time or place!

Before you start sharing, It's important to decide if it is the right person. Indicate what you want to talk about, how long you might need, and if that moment will work for them or if it would be better to arrange a different time and place.

Be Honest and Open

be honest and open

In some families and cultures, you may be encouraged to keep your feelings to yourself because you don't want to upset other people or you want to appear strong. Being vulnerable is not always easy. It can be tempting to put on a mask and seem strong on the outside while your world is falling apart on the inside.

Emotional Honesty is key when communicating your grief. It's easier to express your feelings as openly as possible if you have followed the tips I have shared about choosing the right person, time and place. 

You can also choose to share your memories and the impact the loss has had on your life. Being genuine will foster better understanding and empathy.

Use "I" Statements

When talking about your grief, frame your thoughts using "I" statements. For example, say, "I feel overwhelmed by sadness" instead of "You make me sad." This approach keeps the focus on your feelings and experiences, making it easier for others to empathise and support you.

“I” statements are also very empowering because they remind you that although you can't change what has happened, you can choose how you respond.

Be Patient and Understanding

be patient and understanding

It's important to remember that your loved ones may not fully comprehend your grief, no matter how well you explain it. Grief can be complex and challenging to grasp for those who haven't experienced it first-hand, even though everyone's experience is unique. We are taught a lot of knowledge in the education system but we are rarely taught anything about grief, how it can impact us, how to handle it or how to avoid getting stuck in our grief journey.

We are also taught little information about how to support someone dealing with bereavement or other loss. This makes everyone vulnerable to not recognising misinformation which can be like a mine waiting to explode. I remember after my mum died, someone trying to be helpful said, “You mustn't cry, you have to be strong for your brothers and sisters because you're the oldest girl.” I believed her and tried to follow her advice for years. Every time I wanted to cry, I would tell myself “I mustn't cry, I've got to be strong for my brothers and sisters.” This led to me being stuck in my grief journey for years, because my grief was not being processed.

Be patient with those who are trying to support you and understand that they might not always know the right things to say or do. They might find it helpful to read my 10 Common Mistakes When Supporting Someone Dealing with Loss. It can be downloaded here: https://handling-grief.com/commonmistakes-support

Share Your Needs

Communication is not only about expressing your grief but also about letting others know what you need. Whether it's a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, or some space, be clear about how your colleagues, loved ones can support you. They want to help, but they may need guidance on how to do so effectively.

Let your close friend, loved one or family member know what you're experiencing and what you need from them. I used to often talk to my husband about my grief emotions and he thought that what I wanted was for him to fix the problem or find a solution. What I actually wanted was to be listened to without interruption, analysis, judgement or be given advice to fix how I was feeling. He found it such a relief when I told him what I needed and didn't expect him to come up with any solutions.

Seek Professional Support, If Necessary

seek professional help

If your grief has become complicated or prolonged, it may be so overwhelming that it's beneficial to seek the assistance of a Grief Specialist as talking to suitable colleagues and friends may not be enough. The Specialist can provide guidance on how to communicate your grief and offer strategies for managing your emotions. Professional support can help you identify and process unresolved grief and also help you and your loved ones navigate the challenging journey of grief together. 

If you are a grieving person dealing with significant loss you may struggle with maintaining relationships. Dealing with a complicated relationship with a close friend or family member, at a time when you really need support, can add to the pain you are feeling and lead to an intense grief reaction. Joining a support group might be a helpful step to take.                                            

There are many charities and other organisations offering specialist free resources and support, for example Child Bereavement UK offers grief counselling and support when young children or a young person is dealing with a bereavement. Bereaved children, young adults or their family members can access this support.

Accept Different Reactions

Talking about death and grief can trigger uncomfortable emotions for the listener. For example, your bereaved friend who is perhaps still dealing with the recent sudden bereavement of a loved one, may be experiencing their own grief reactions, which may have become prolonged grief reactions. They may be receiving grief therapy or seeing a grief counsellor from Cruse Bereavement Care . Even though your close friend may normally be your source of listening and support, they may not have the capacity as they need support themselves. You may need to find a different way to handle the strong emotion you are struggling with. Sometimes in this situation choosing someone else or expressing yourself through creativity, by writing or keeping a grief journal can be helpful.

Remember that your loved ones may have their unique response and ways of coping with your grief. Some may offer unwavering support, while others might need time to process their emotions before being there for you. Accept and appreciate the diverse ways people react to your grief.

 

Our default pattern can be to withdraw and avoid talking about our emotions, but communicating about your grief and its impact with family and friends is a significant step in the healing process. While it can be challenging, it's essential to share your feelings and needs with your loved ones. Be open, patient, and honest, and don't hesitate to seek professional help when necessary. Grief is a journey, and having a support system that understands and cares for you can make the road a bit more manageable.

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Grief Specialist

Ghulam Fernandes

Grief Specialist

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