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The Negative Effects Of Unresolved Grief Among Family Members

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The Negative Effects of Unresolved Grief Among Family Members

The death of a parent is the most traumatic event most families will ever experience. The primary support after such an event comes from the surviving family members and close friends who knew the deceased parent. Additional help can be received from psychologists, grief counselors, and other professionals. Resolving short term shock and long term grief following the loss of a parent can be extremely difficult based on the age of the remaining family members and the relationship they had with the deceased parent. It is important to use all resources available to get the family through such an experience. Families who experience the death of a parent, without the support of extended family, friends, and professionals frequently struggle with drug use, depression, and alcoholism.

The Random House Dictionary of the English Language (1966) defines grief as keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss. From a psychological standpoint, bereavement вЂ" generally held to signify the emotional state and behavior of the survivor following the death of a person who fulfilled dependency needs вЂ" is a temporary condition from which the individual is expected to recover (Sills, 1964, p. 24). All individuals are different and factors such as age, relationship to the deceased, cultural background, and religion can impact how they grieve and mourn. Because of these and other differences, there is no timetable for when some ones grief might end. Some may work through these feelings in a period of months while others continue to struggle years later. Still, most individuals do recover from their grief.

Grief is a social process and should be dealt with in a social setting so that people can support each other, and their reactions to such a loss. This social matrix should consist of people who knew the deceased and can help to support each other. When there is an absence of such a social network, complications can occur. Many studies have found that those who have not done well with the loss and have developed certain disorders can be traced back to having inadequate social support (Worden, 2002).

Experts have found that there are five stages in the grief process. These stages are not always felt by everyone, and not everyone goes through them in the same order. The first stage is denial, and is most commonly felt as shock or numbness. The second stage is anger, which is our way of trying to find someone to put at fault for the death of our loved one. The next stage is bargaining, which is trying to negotiate with a higher power, saying that you would do anything if they would just bring that person back. Depression is the next stage, and this is when we realize that the loss is very real and cannot be changed. The final stage is called acceptance, and this is when we come to terms with our loss (Callahan et al., 2005).

Experiencing a loss is something that everyone must go through at some point or another. Everyone has their own way of dealing with their loss. As stated by the 1990 U.S. census, about 2 million children and adolescents under the age of 18 have experienced the death of a parent (Christ, 2001). The way people respond to a loss is based on a few factors, such as the nature of the loss, the individual’s personality, past experiences with loss, and the support of others (Callahan et al., 2005). When a person loses someone close to them, they do not only lose the person on a physical level, but they also lose the potential for what could have been. They will always wonder what that person might have done if they were still alive (Callahan et al., 2005). One of the most difficult times for the bereaved family is not actually at the time of death, because they are surrounded by their friends and family. It is after the services, when people stop visiting or calling, that is the truly difficult time.

Numerous studies have identified the ways that children and adolescents react to grief based on their age. Concepts of time and the understanding of death differ by age group. When a child is about 5 years of age, they begin to understand that death is irreversible, and that it is a permanent separation. They know that dead people are different from living people because they cannot move, feel, hear, see, smell, or speak. When the child becomes nearer to puberty they begin to understand that there are physical changes in the dead person’s appearance (Black, 1998). For children fro 9 to 14, the process of mourning is complex and frustrating for the surviving parent. Many preadolescents shove their feelings away and are reluctant to talk about death. Adolescents from 12 to 14 are sometimes the hardest for the surviving parents to reach. They don’t want to talk about their parent’s death and hate the idea of showing emotion. Those children from 15 to 17 very much resemble adults in the way they handle their grief. They are able to be helpful and supportive of the surviving parent, sometimes so much so that the parent forgets that the child is still a child (Goode, 2000).

The way that children work through grief has a lot to do with how friends and family help and comfort them. In order for a child to have optimal emotional, social, and psychosexual development, they must have warm, secure, affectionate, individualized, and continuous experience of care from their parents or guardians (Black, 1998). When a child loses a parent, all stages of development, emotional, physical, social, and psychosexual, can be affected and the child may experience certain disorders later on in their life (Black, 1998). If they fail to work through their grief and their grief is unresolved, they can develop problems later in their adulthood. Sometimes these problems are not too serious, but sometimes they become major, long term emotional handicaps (Fitzgerald, 1994). Usually the short term reactions tend not to last more then a few weeks, and most children regain their previous level of psychosocial functioning. Reports show however, that children who have lost a parent have higher levels of emotional disturbance for up to two years, than children who have not been through such a traumatic event. Up to forty percent of children may show disturbance a year after the loss. Some children may develop learning problems and may fall behind in school. In extreme cases children have suicidal thoughts and long to be with those who have passed on, though these thoughts are rarely acted upon (Black, 1998). Problems can arise because a child who loses a parent also tends to become very protective and anxious about the health and survival of the other parent. Children often protect the surviving parent from knowing that they are in distress. This



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