When a whole family goes through an experience of loss together, it can put a strain on family relationships, affect the well being of members in the family (especially teens and children), and become a burden for everyone to tend to. For instance, families might go through a divorce, lose a loved one to suicide, or learn that a family member has a terminal illness.
When a challenging event happens that rocks the stability of the family, it’s important that the adults in the family consider the following:
Recognize that it’s going to take time to heal. Restoring the family to the way it was isn’t going to happen overnight. It’s going to take days, months, even years. Knowing this from the start can help bring compassion and tenderness to family members who are having the most difficult time with the loss or trauma.
Make amends if needed. Perhaps there are some healing of relationships that need to happen among family members. And if a family member has passed away, there might even be healing of a relationship with that individual as well. Although it might be difficult, especially if there are amends to be made with a deceased member of the family, restoring relationships can be the foundation upon which healing of trauma can take place. Making amends is one of the first steps to healing from a family wound or trauma.
Focus on the present. Once you’ve made amends and you’ve recognized that it’s going to take some time to heal, focusing on the present and the ways that the family is healing is going to support rebuilding family relationships. It’s going to help moving forward. Although there will be a strong tendency to want to focus on the past, part of healing will be to stay present and focus on healing. It’s not to say that focusing on the past is wrong, doing so can help bring understanding and forgiveness. However, when there is too much focus on the past, wishing for the past to return, or perseverating over old times, it can prevent healing from taking place.
Focus on rebuilding the family as it is now. To do this, family members might want to schedule regular outings together. They may want to commit to having dinner together each night. Spending more time together as a family unit now, can also help build relationships. If you need to, you may want to mourn together or celebrate the life of the loved one who recently passed. Or if there is a family member with a terminal illness, other family members may want to join together in making his or her life more comfortable and celebratory, if possible.
These are suggestions for repairing the stability and cohesiveness of a family who has experienced a challenge together. In some cases, the teens and children in the family may be the most impacted. If needed, parents and caregivers might consider seeking the support of a mental health provider.