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Dealing with Friends and Family, Family Dynamics, Grief Articles for Beginners, Conflict and Disagreement
Death brings out the best and worst in families. Working with patients and families at the end-of-life, we’ve seen behavior that runs all along the spectrum. And though we love to celebrate positive, warm-fuzzy, supportive, interactions, today we’re going to spend a little time talking about family fighting after a death.
When otherwise amicable friend groups and families fight after a death, it can feel like a secondary loss. You’re trying to cope with the death of your loved one, and suddenly your support system is not only unsupportive but a source of additional stress.
If this has been your experience, please know that you are not alone. Not even close! So many people can relate to family fighting after a death. What’s the number one source of conflict? You guessed it, fighting over material possessions.
As hard as it is for many of us to admit, countless families who never imagine there would be conflict over material things are suddenly overwhelmed by disagreement over estates and belongings.
Common Material Conflicts:
When to begin sorting through belongings. Some people are ready right away, some people want more time before sorting through items.
Who gets what. Especially when there is not a will, but even when there is a will, there are often many household items or sentimental objects that are not accounted for.
What to keep and what to give away. Attachment to objects can vary greatly from person to person. While one person may want to save every Tupperware container and tube of chapstick that mom ever owned, other family members may be quick to toss those items in the trash.
Whether to keep or sell a house. Houses can have tremendous sentimental value, making them something many family members don’t want to part with. Houses can also hold tremendous value, making them something many family members may want to sell right away.
Money money money. Whether it is scraping together money to pay for a funeral, or dividing up bank accounts and investments without a will for clear guidance, money can quickly become a sore spot.
Additional sources of conflict:
There are many other sources of strain and conflict that can arise for families. There is no way I could cover them all here, but some other common conflicts are:
Disagreements about treatment at the end of life. Conflict can begin even before a loved one dies when families disagree about goals of care, withdrawing support at the hospital, and caregiving responsibilities.
Arrangements. Questions like whether someone will be buried or cremated, where will the service be held, where will they be buried, etc. can bring surprising strife between family members.
Relocating. After a death, it is not uncommon that people may move, either by choice or out of necessity. This can split a family geographically and be devastating for those who feel left behind.
Custody. When death results in children who must be cared for, conflict can arise around who will get custody of the children if this was not predetermined.
Different grieving styles. We all grieve in different ways and on different timelines. When people are grieving differently this can be a major source of conflict within families. This is especially common if one family member thinks another is not as impacted by the death or they are ‘moving on’ too quickly.
How to cope with family fighting after a death:
I wish we had an easy solution to solve all conflict. If we did, we’d probably be busy making the rounds on Oprah and Dr. Phil. Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. All we can provide a little insight into why these conflicts may arise and a few suggestions to cope.
Did you know that when people experience stress, their brains actually work differently? It’s true! I don’t want to get bogged down in neuroscience, but all you really need to know is this: there are parts of our brain that think rationally and there are parts of our brain that think more on impulse and emotion.
When someone is in a heightened state due to a stressful or traumatic event, it is harder to think with the rational part of the brain so they default to using the emotional parts of their brain. These are the parts that struggle with reasoning, memory, and long-term thinking.
Ultimately, when multiple people, under stress, acting from a place of emotion interact, conflicts can arise.
Experiences related to death and grief often make people feel a loss of control. As CS Lewis said, “No one ever told me grief felt so like fear”. This change, loss of control, and loss of stability can be terrifying.
During this time certain family members may seek to regain a sense of control any way they can. They may try to plan the funeral without getting anyone else’s input. They may decide they immediately want to sort through belongings. They may try to exert control over other family members grief and coping.
Helping another family member to have a sense of control, while communicating how their actions are making others feel, can be helpful. If control seems to be a driving factor, other family members may be able to help guide this person’s energy into things that would be useful and that may cause less family strife.
Communication (or lack thereof) can be a key issue that leads to conflict. If a plan isn’t made for who, when, and how certain things will be handled, it is not uncommon for one person to go rogue. Communicating isn’t always easy, but it is crucial to reducing conflict.
If at all possible, make a plan right away for how and when things will be handled. Agree on a time frame to all sit down together to go over the will, discuss next steps, and ensure everyone is on the same page. Make a plan for regular updates and communication between family members.
If it is too late for proactive planning, focus on giving feedback and getting back on track. Keep in mind that emotions are running high, so it is especially important to communicate effectively. Try to avoid accusatory statements. Instead, focus on expressing your own experience.
This is the old “use ‘I’ statements instead of ‘you’ statements” trick. So, for example, instead of saying, “I can’t believe you threw away mom’s clothes without talking to me first. You are so self-centered and thoughtless”. Instead, you could say, “I was really hurt when you threw away mom’s clothes without talking to me first. It made me feel like you didn’t care about my grief or my attachment to those things.”.
By focusing on the behavior, how it made you feel, and the impact you can hopefully open a dialogue without making the other person defensive. Also, be open to their feedback. You probably haven’t been perfect either, so try to openly listen to what they need from you.
Generalizing the Negative
Try not to generalize or globalize negative behaviors to condemn the person on a whole. For example, you and cousin John have been close for 35 years and you think he is a great guy. After the death of your grandmother, he seems selfishly fixated on getting ownership of her car. You are outraged and appalled, so you think to yourself, “Wow, I always thought John was a good person. Now I see him for what he really is. I can’t believe I never realized how greedy he is”. All of a sudden everything else John does is clouded by your new-found realization that John is a shady, greedy troll.
Timeout. Let’s take a few steps back here. Grief makes us all do crazy, sometimes crappy, things that we often regret. It is important to cut people (and ourselves) some slack. People do all sorts of awful stuff when they grieve, so view these things as poor choices due to an impossible time in life. It doesn’t override the 10, 15, 35, or 50 years of wonderful things you know about the person. Try to remember that this may be the exception in their behavior, not the rule. Just like you need to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, you need to be gentle and forgiving with others.
One final tip – Mediation
If there is truly no managing the conflict on your own, there are professional mediators who can help. They can work with your family to get through the basic logistics. They are trained professionals and you may just find some time with them can help you better understand each other.
Here are a few additional posts related to this topic that you may find helpful:
- Family Misunderstanding After a Death
- Grief or Greed? When Families Fight Over Material Possessions
- Grief Support Gone Wrong: When You’re Beyond Second Chances
- Sorting Through a Loved One’s Belongings After a Death [Webinar and Resources]
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Even though we're all certain to die one day, most people can leave the planning to the last minute, or not at all. This failure to plan is one of the most common reasons some families fall apart when a loved one dies. A combination of heightened emotions, financial strain, and grief causes estrangement in families.
Those left behind are grieving and emotional. At the same time they must deal with having to make final arrangement for their loved one. This can often involve making difficult decisions. All this can cause tensions to come to a head which leads to arguments and disagreements.
Shock is different for everyone and may last for a couple of days or weeks. Shock may cause some people to react in an unusual way when they first hear the news of a death. It may be that some people laugh hysterically.
- The death of a husband or wife is well recognized as an emotionally devastating event, being ranked on life event scales as the most stressful of all possible losses. ...
- There are two distinct aspects to marital partnerships.
personality changes like being more irritable, less patient, or no longer having the tolerance for other people's “small” problems. forgetfulness, trouble concentrating and focusing. becoming more isolated, either by choice or circumstances. feeling like an outcast.
- 1) Estate Planning can help prevent Estate Litigation. ...
- 2) Joint Ownership of a financial account. ...
- 3) Appointing a Neutral Personal Representative or Trustee.
Recognize that shock is a natural part of grief that may occur many times before the actuality of the loss sinks in. Even though it feels off-balance, it is part of the process of dealing with painful experiences. In time, the shock will lessen.
In time, the heart stops and they stop breathing. Within a few minutes, their brain stops functioning entirely and their skin starts to cool. At this point, they have died.
'The only cure for grief is to grieve' ~ Earl Grollman.
- Shock. Feelings of shock are unavoidable in nearly every situation, even if we feel we have had time to prepare for the loss of a loved one. ...
- Denial. ...
- Anger. ...
- Bargaining. ...
- Depression. ...
- Acceptance and hope. ...
- Processing grief.
Tips for coping with grief and bereavement alone:
Make the most of staying single and use the time to care for yourself. Give yourself some alone time to process your emotions. If you have no one to talk to, get in touch with organisations like The Samaritans. Join online and local community groups for support.
In other words, grief is the internal meaning given to the experience of loss. Mourning is when you take the grief you have on the inside and express it outside yourself. Another way of defining mourning is “grief gone public” or “the outward expression of grief.” There is no one right or only way to mourn.
Reacting with shock and a numbing of feelings are part of a normal first phase of grief. The initial shock and numbness might last from a few minutes to a few weeks.
The term “bereavement hallucination” refers to a perceptual or perception-like experience of someone who has died, usually a partner, family member, or close friend. Such experiences are sometimes described in terms of specific sensory modalities: one might see, hear, or feel the touch of the deceased.
Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live. — Norman Cousins.
According to Kisa Gotami, the greatest grief of life is the death of loved ones and one's inability to stop them from dying. So, instead of lamenting on it, the wise shouldn't grieve. Grief will only increase the pain and disturb the peace of mind of a person.
Aches and pains are a common physical symptom of grief. Grief can cause back pain, joint pain, headaches, and stiffness. The pain is caused by the overwhelming amount of stress hormones being released during the grieving process. These effectively stun the muscles they contact.
Profound emotional reactions may occur. These reactions include anxiety attacks, chronic fatigue, depression and thoughts of suicide. An obsession with the deceased is also a common reaction to death.
Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalm 73:26 “My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever.” Matthew 5:4 “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.”
Profound grief can change a person's psychology and personality forever. The initial changes that occur immediately after suffering a significant loss may go unnoticed for several weeks or months after the death of a loved one or other traumatic experience.
There are five basic reasons why families fight in matters of inheritance: First, humans are genetically predisposed to competition and conflict; second, our psychological sense of self is intertwined with the approval that an inheritance represents, especially when the decedent is a parent; third, we are genetically ...
According to recent research from Ameriprise, while only 15% of grown siblings report conflicts over money, nearly 70% of those conflicts are related to their parents. The top three topics of discontent are: How an inheritance is divided. Whether one sibling supports his or her parents more than the other siblings.
An executor must be impartial. Neither he/she, nor his/her family, friends, may benefit unfairly (for example from the sale of an asset). He/She must carry out the instructions in the will, as well as reasonable instructions of the heirs. Quarrels with heirs should not interfere with his or her duties.
There is no set timetable for grief. You may start to feel better in 6 to 8 weeks, but the whole process can last from months to years. You may start to feel better in small ways. It will start to get a little easier to get up in the morning, or maybe you'll have more energy.
A sudden death is an unanticipated death
While sudden deaths have very different causes, what unites them all is that they are unexpected and consequently unanticipated. The people bereaved by these deaths have no time to prepare for their loss, or say goodbye.
EEG Proves Hearing in Dying Patients
The research team found that unresponsive, dying patients showed brain patterns indicative of hearing while they were unresponsive. While their number of participants was small, there is now persuasive evidence that patients can hear within hours of death.
Visions and Hallucinations
Visual or auditory hallucinations are often part of the dying experience. The appearance of family members or loved ones who have died is common. These visions are considered normal. The dying may turn their focus to “another world” and talk to people or see things that others do not see.
Agonal breathing or agonal gasps are the last reflexes of the dying brain. They are generally viewed as a sign of death, and can happen after the heart has stopped beating.
Complicated grief is like being in an ongoing, heightened state of mourning that keeps you from healing. Signs and symptoms of complicated grief may include: Intense sorrow, pain and rumination over the loss of your loved one. Focus on little else but your loved one's death.
- Check in on them. Make an effort to check in with your friend, even if it is a quick phone call, a card or an invitation to grab a coffee together. ...
- Understand the grieving process. ...
- Listen more, talk less. ...
- Let them cry. ...
- Ask questions. ...
- Offer practical help. ...
- Be willing to sit in silence. ...
- Remember important dates.
- Let yourself feel the pain and sorrow. ...
- Avoid drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. ...
- Own your grief. ...
- Stick to a daily routine. ...
- Process each loss one at a time, taking frequent self-care breaks during this period.
- Take mindfulness breaks and check in with your body often.
- Assess the situation. Looking at things with a fresh perspective might make you see things differently. ...
- Take a fresh look. ...
- Ask for forgiveness. ...
- Honor your loved one. ...
- Donate to charity. ...
- Connect with loved ones. ...
- Live a better life.
Grief is hard work
A grief response is often referred to as “Grief-work”. It requires more energy to work through than most people expect. It takes a toll on us physically and emotionally. This is why we often feel so fatigued after a loss or why we may feel very apathetic towards people and events.
In 1969, Swiss-American Psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross theorized that there are five universal stages of grief: denial and seclusion, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages have since been used to describe how we respond to a heartbreaking loss.
Isolation is an actual health risk so it's important to pay attention to how your coping in the weeks and months following a loss, especially if you're someone who tends to withdraw into oneself. If you see yourself slipping into isolation, it's probably best to try and find a few small ways to connect.
Abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse in childhood. Ongoing toxic behaviors, including anger, cruelty, disrespect, and hurtfulness. Feeling unaccepted/unsupported, including about their life choices, relationships, disability status, and other things important in their life.
Children who experience parental loss are at a higher risk for many negative outcomes, including mental issues (e.g., depression, anxiety, somatic complaints, post-traumatic stress symptoms), shorter schooling, less academic success, lower self-esteem5, and more sexual risk behaviors6.
When a close relative dies, it not only causes grief for individual family members, but it also affects how your family functions. Suddenly roles change, people may behave out of character, opinions become strong and riffs can rise up in the heat of emotions that may come out in ways not intended.
The family members are left on their own to cope with all the perfectly normal feelings that they have: feelings of grief, loss, separation-anxiety; anger, rage, and resentment; feelings of loneliness, relief, perhaps disorientation; and feelings of guilt (p. 181).
Divorce is claimed to be the main reason behind broken family. The common disputes between a husband and a wife are the financial issue, sexual misunderstanding, early marriage, teen pregnancy, education, health problem, etc. When the parents get divorced, usually either of them or sometime both of them leave home.
- Remaining as neutral as possible. ...
- Helping to navigate and repair. ...
- Listening to both sides. ...
- Being kind and compassionate. ...
- Trying not to offer any strong opinions or directives for what to do next.
- Try to stay calm.
- Try to put emotions aside.
- Don't interrupt the other person while they are speaking.
- Actively listen to what they are saying and what they mean.
- Check that you understand them by asking questions.
- Communicate your side of the story clearly and honestly.
orphan. The definition of orphan is a child or something related to a child who's lost their parents.
Losing a parent is grief-filled and traumatic, and it permanently alters children of any age, both biologically and psychologically. Nothing is ever the same again; the loss of a mother or father is a wholly transformative event.
Among people between the ages of 35 and 44, only one-third of them (34%) have experienced the death of one or both parents. For people between 45 and 54, though, closer to two-thirds have (63%). Among people who have reached the age of 64, a very high percentage 88% — have lost one or both parents.
Grief tends to end friendships because of a lack of support when needed and expected and because many don't understand the depths of a suffering friend's despair. They lack the knowledge about how grief can affect a person and how you might reconnect with someone after a death.
When the relationship creates so much stress that it affects the important areas of your life at work, home or both. When your emotions are totally caught up in defending yourself and wanting to explain yourself and the chaos of your relationships with these people is all you talk about, it is time to let go.
Well, although none of us realise it at the time, going through the the grieving process is said to make us stronger personalities, better able to cope with challenges later in life.
Physically: Headaches, feeling tired, achy muscles and nausea. Emotionally: Sadness, anger, disbelief, despair, guilt and loneliness. Mentally: Forgetfulness, lack of concentration, confusion and poor memory. Behaviourally: Changes to sleeping patterns, dreams or nightmares, or to your appetite.
- Talk about the death of your loved one with friends or colleagues in order to help you understand what happened and remember your friend or family member. ...
- Accept your feelings. ...
- Take care of yourself and your family. ...
- Reach out and help others dealing with the loss.
What happens to your body during death? During death, your body's vital functions stop entirely. Your heart no longer beats, your breath stops and your brain stops functioning. Studies suggest that brain activity may continue several minutes after a person has been declared dead.