The loss of a significant other, such as a spouse, is one of the most stressful life events, according to the Holmes-Rahe Scale, but grief can also take its toll on the youngest members of a household. A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that grief subsides in most children and teens whose parent dies suddenly, but in some cases, it may persist, thus increasing the risk of depression and significantly affecting the child’s ability to function in day-to-day life. If your family has encountered loss, how can you survive as individuals and as a family, with the view to one day feeling that life can have meaning and quality once again?
Parental Grief Affects that of Children
In the above-mentioned study, researchers noted that children were more likely to develop depression after the loss of a parent if the surviving parent had complicated or prolonged grief. Complicated grief occurs in about 7% of people who have survived the death of a loved one. It involves having persistent irrational thoughts and poorly controlled emotions that stop people from moving past the toughest stages of grief. Those who have lost a spouse ironically need to function well to take many important decisions when a spouse dies. For instance, they may have to consider changes to their financial position, or may even need to consider a job change or a change of residence. It is vital to obtain help in these cases, and the ‘gold standard’ treatment for family members with prolonged grief, is complicated grief therapy.
What is Complicated Grief Therapy?
Therapists recommend that both adults and children with prolonged grief undergo complicated grief therapy, as a way to avoid depression and other serious problems. This therapy is similar to other techniques used for depression (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) but it hones in on loss and enlightens the bereaved on issues such as the nature of complicated grief, the importance of reducing emotions like blame and guilt, and understanding the link between the way we think and feel about grief and the way we behave. Therapists often invite family members to hold imaginary conversations with the loved one that has passed away, to reduce the trauma associated with thoughts of their relative. Finally, strategies are formulated to help family members cope when they are feeling down.
Understanding Each Other
It is important for both adults and children to understand the importance of patience and empathy with family members. Older children can be introduced to the concept of the different stages of grief, as developed by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross. These stages are: denial, anger, bargaining, anger, and acceptance. People don’t necessarily go through these stages in chronological order and they may flit back and forth between the different stages. It is important for all those who are mature enough to do so, to understand that other family members may sometimes seem sadder than normal, then seem to accept the death, only to feel angry again a few days later. Taking a non-judgmental approach is key if family members are to feel unconditionally supported by those closest to them.
Losing a loved one is life-changing for adults, but its effects in children should also be recognized. Although there are many stages of grief, human beings can become stuck in a stage like depression or anger, finding it hard to function in daily life, hold down a job, or complete their daily tasks. If you or your children are wrestling with prolonged grief, therapy can be very helpful as a means of keeping depression and other mental disorders at bay. Sometimes, the whole family can benefit from therapy as a way to better understand each other and support each other in what is undoubtedly one of the most difficult times in life.