How to grieve when others are grieving too
August 16, 2022
The world can become very small after a loved one is diagnosed with a serious illness. Fear, anger and grief can make it hard to see past anything other than our own pain and anxiety, and it can be challenging to get the support we need because often the people we would naturally turn to are themselves looking for support through this crisis. It is hard to be supported and give support when everyone that you love is impacted by the diagnosis.
Emotions can run high when you and your family are all trying to manage the illness of a loved one – whilst many families aim to take comfort in each other and stick together as best they can, most would admit that it is harder to achieve than they had expected. Family members often find it difficult to seek support or comfort in those around them and feel they are walking on eggshells with their true feelings in fear of upsetting the person that is ill or someone else in the family, or that their feelings are not being taken seriously as everyone scrambles to come to terms with the situation.
Likewise, you may find other family members leaning on you for support when you have nothing to give because of your own mixed emotions. This can add a burden to what is already a difficult time and can lead to feelings of resentment and claustrophobia, particularly amongst younger members of the family for which these are often very strong, mature feelings to process.
So, what do you do when you’re not ok and those around you are also not ok? Is it possible to be strong for each other as you journey from diagnosis to treatment and outcome whatever that may be? If you feel lost within your own family’s grief, here are some ideas to help you all find your way back together again.
Acknowledge that everyone has a different relationship to the person who is ill
Everyone that knows and loves the person that is ill will have a different relationship with them: physically, in terms of whether they are a brother or father etc, but also emotionally, as we all share different experiences and connections with the people that we love. This doesn’t mean acknowledging these differences gives one person “more right” to be upset than anyone else, but as a family we can start to recognise and understand that each person will react to the illness differently, including the person that has the illness, and will have varying needs as they try to individually move forward.
No two people within your family or circle of friends will process what’s happening in the same way. By recognising this, it gives everyone permission to be themselves, be honest about their feelings and what is possible to both give and receive in terms of support. There are no winners, we are all starting from different positions and will get through it at a different pace.
Make space for your own emotions
If you don’t feel you can share your thoughts and emotions with your immediate family and friends, have a look for external support services (like Hope!). This is where individual support and peer led support groups can be so effective, because you have the opportunity to share and open-up to a neutral third party that doesn’t expect anything from you in return. It allows you the chance to be honest about your feelings, which can be hard to do if you are worried about upsetting someone you love – hiding our true feelings can be detrimental to our emotional and mental wellbeing in the long term, which is why it is so important to find an outlet where you can share, cry, tell stories, and vent.
There’s never been a better time for total transparency
Ever feel like everyone is thinking about what is or is going to happen, but no one wants to actually talk about it? Don’t let a person’s illness be the elephant in the room. Whilst it can be hard to acknowledge what is going on with the people you love, most people are grateful for the opportunity to talk about their feelings, rather than feeling like they must bottle it up. It may be due to fear of upsetting our family further by telling them exactly how sad, scared or confused we are but by laying it out honestly, you give them the opportunity to do the same, and this can help you all validate your feelings and feel heard within the family unit. Try saying “this is hard, isn’t it?”. This gives permission for it to be hard for not just you but for everyone. Let them know you want to be a help, though you may not always know how to be supportive as you are hurting too. Maybe ask “how can I help?”, while letting them know how they can be a help to you.
Sometimes you might have to be strong for others, and you may not like that (which is ok to admit!) but by being honest about how you feel, by finding space for your own emotions outside of the family unit and by acknowledging other’s pain, you are not only helping others heal but also helping you to heal and move forward.