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Effects of Death on the Family

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Sociology
Wordcount: 4445 words Published: 15th Sep 2017

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Cadence Matthews

To begin, grief and death can be difficult to understand, Fumia said, “When it comes to grieving the death of a loved one, there are no linear patterns, no “normal” reactions, no formulas to follow[K1].” The word grief is derived from the French word “grève,” meaning a heavy burden. Indeed, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual implications can be overwhelming[K2].” The reality of death effects families from an emotional/physical myriad while also shifting family systems, and impacting spirituality.

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To start, the emotional and physical effects of death on a family are many and varied. The potential negative effects of grief can be significant. For illustration, research shows that 40% of bereaved people will suffer from some form of anxiety disorder in the first year after the death of a loved one, and there can even be up to a 70% increase in death risk of the surviving spouse within the first six months after the death of their spouse.[1] Overall, understanding the myriad of physical and emotional reactions  is essential.

Commonly, those grieving within a family often feel like they’re[K3] going crazy as the emotions of loss are so great and ebb and flow constantly. Bozarth in her book, “A Journey Through Grief: Gentle, Specific Help to Get You Through the Most Difficult Stages of Grief “writes, “while you are grieving, your emotional life may be unpredictable and unstable. You may feel that there are gaps in your remembered experience…. You may alternate between depression and euphoria, between wailing rage and passive resignation…. If you’ve experienced loss and are hurting, it’s reasonable that your responses will be unreasonable.”[2] Furthermore[K4], one huge side effect that families face in grief is exhaustion. Research has noted that the griever may even feel as though they have the flu since the exhaustion is so deep. Additionally, families face days of distraction. When a family goes through a loss they often lose the most basic life skills[K5], such as organization or accomplishment at least for a while. It must be noted that grief has no schedule. It comes in waves, waves none the less[K6]. When grief covers, a family it takes over emotionally and physically with a variety of symptoms such as: sleep difficulties, poor appetite or overeating, shakiness or trembling, listlessness, disorientation, migraines or headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, crying, numbness, shortness of breath, and exhaustion. Some individuals often withdraw from society and people for a while as many emotions surface. Often experiences, or people that once evoked joy evoke nothing at all, activities once enjoyed seem far-off[K7]. While some members of the family turn to impulsive living. The first year can involve a lot of unnecessary risks. Further, grief can make everything feel surreal[K8], as if reality is just a terrible dream. Everything becomes a blur as the idea of time vanishes. Days are measured by: one day after they died, two days after they died…all standard concepts fade away[K9].[3] Helen Fitzgerald, the writer of, “the Mourning Handbook” writes, “During this initial period of grief, you will feel a numbness and a disassociation with the world around you. People who are going through this often tell me that they feel as if they are watching a play in which they are but spectators.” [4][K10]

Secondly, another huge area that can affect families as they grieve is spirituality. There are many spiritual effects and struggles within a family after facing a death. To start, people vary in their response to death as they differ in how they cope with stress in general. Some people experience a very positive religious[K11] coping[K12] a conceptualization by Pargament, Smith, Koenig, and Perez. They articulate it as such, “an expression of a sense of spirituality, a secure relationship with God, a belief that there is meaning to be found in life, and a sense of spiritual connectedness with others.” Yet[K13] on the other side of things there can be negative coping which the same individuals describe it as, “spiritual discontent, punishing God reappraisals, interpersonal religious discontent, demonic reappraisals (attributing the event to the work of the devil), and reappraisals of God’s power.” Religious[K14] coping can help or not help when adapting to loss, it varies between individuals. The positive side of things could be that the griever finds meaning in the loss and surrenders the feelings of being out of control, learning to depend on God’s comfort presence, and the fellowship of other believers while grieving. This can lead to a grievers transformation and hope in the midst of deep pain. It has even been proven that spiritual coping has helped with chronic illness. The four core dimensions of spiritual[K15] needs are connection, peace, meaning/purpose, and transcendence, which help recovery for ill people as well as when coping with a death in the family. Also, when a mourner has a spiritual community around this can help with bereavement outcomes. Yet[K16], as much as a spirituality can be a source of strength it can also be a source of strain. A two-year longitudinal study was done on a crisis of faith. In elderly patients[K17], those who had a crisis of faith were much closer to death[K18], even when all other variables were controlled. Spirituality is not always helpful in terms of adjusting to losses. Even more so, loss can sometimes foster spiritual distress this is seen in things like anger towards God, or an inability to believe in the sovereignty of God, especially when the death is gruesome. These things are bad[K19], but if one does not move from these mindsets, it will destroy them spirituality. Those who have suffered terrible violence[K20], such as a death through homicide, they are much more likely to have extreme unrelenting anger towards God. This can lead to a very sad and tainted view of God of [K21]the griever never moves from this. For some people begin to believe that God has arranged the death of their loved one. Although, spiritual distress in grief is found worse for those with complicated grief. An example of negative spiritual coping shows up in a young boys distressed response, “I don’t really care now about sinning… It doesn’t matter to me as much… since (my brother’s death). I guess it is my way of getting back at God.” All in all, we cannot ignore the link between crisis of faith and overall poor grief outcomes.[5]

Another huge reality that families face in losing a loved one within the family is the shifting of the family system and its dynamics.The loss of someone within the family unit creates a structural void that requires adjustment. Norna Bowlby-West the author of a helpful article on the journey of family therapy called, “the Impact of Death on the Family System” suggests that family member may be stuck in one of these three phases of grieving, which contributes to the homeostatic utilization of one or more of these adjustments. When the common homeostatic adjustments of the family system shift often the individuals have no awareness of this change and are often like victims in the process of adjustment. The change can destroy existing relationships and personal effectiveness. An example of this is when a sibling tries to become a parent to their sibling to which they have both lost a parent. West in her article goes over twelve common hemostatic adjustments that can take place within a family. First is the anniversary reactions which can be things like: anniversary of death date, their birthday, date of marriage, or traditional holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving). These times are stressful and can sometimes reinforce unresolved if grief work in the family has not occurred. For example, if a baby brother died on another brother’s birthday, leaving the one brother an only child, from[K22] then on that child may never view a birthday as a celebratory thing and only feel depressed on that day. In this case, the effect on the sibling who was left an only child, was lack of self- esteem and the withdrawal of parental affection and attention. The family structure was maintained, as though the dead child was still present physically. Another adjustment is displacement of feelings which can be a mix of: bottled up grief, projections of anger on doctors, nurses, hospitals, care givers, or family members, projection of guilt (may feel need to punish oneself or others), helplessness, paranoia, or feelings of shame or embarrassment especially with suicide. The scape goat in the family often is found with displaced feelings. Another adjustment is enmeshment which can be: the fear of more loss-overprotective behaviour[K23], increased closeness- tightening of family boundary, expectation that other family members are experiencing the same grief, lack of privacy/space. For example, if a child within the family committed suicide the parents might cope by not letting their kids be alone ever[K24]. When a family member dies, there is an unspoken tightening of the family boundary and in an increased dependency on those whoare left to fill the void. Another adjustment is family secrets some examples of this are: intentionally not talking about the death, not expressing emotions/pain, seeing the death as a punishment for past sin, or experiencing a deep sense of failure when the subject[K25] is mentioned (not living up the legacy of the person who has passed). Another adjustment is the reality of generation gap[K26], for example: extended family (ex. Grandparents[K27]) may need to grieve more openly, or bereaved spouse or parent may not be able to get support from other generation, or over parenting can cause more harm, or one grieving may need more nurturing. For example, the death of a child usually entangles the extended family of at least three generations who might all need different things. Additionally, another element to adjustment and the shift of roles is seen in idealization. For example, if a member is unable to let go of attachment the person who has passed and puts them on a pedestal. Further, siblings may feel like they have to compete with the “idealized image” of the sibling who has passed on. This can cause kids to always feel like they need to fight for their parent’s approval. Another example of this would be that a dead husband or wife is idealized to the point were no other relationship is able to compete which can leave the individual always stuck in the past. Evermore so, sometimes one’s personal identity becomes frozen in the strong attachment to the dead person and they try to let nothing of their new normal change. This can be seen in someone not being willing to get rid of the deceased belongings or not allowing for any change.

Some parents as a way of coping with losing a child are much stricter on their remaining kids. This can lead some parents to reinforce infantile behaviour[K28] and prevent their kids from risk taking and such. This stress of infantile behaviour[K29] often takes place because the parents fear their surviving children may hurt themselves and in tail overprotect them[K30].

Another element of [K31] adjustment is some grievers face obsessive paranoia. They may focus on death, reliving experience and always dwelling on the negative experiences. This also includes a strong fear about death that is projected onto others. This can also involve high expectations, self-destructive thoughts, and self-punishing. For those who face this, the focusing on death this prevents the griever from normal communication. The fear of death and response to that fear can become a homeostatic device of the family. Obsessive paranoia if serious enough has led to many cases of suicide or violence.

When grieving sometimes family members try to replace the missing person which really affects[K32] the family structure. Some parents may adopt, re-marry, or get pregnant. But replacement can sometimes only damage the replacement as the aborted grief still remains. To end, there is still a lot more to say about the ways families shift in structure in grief[K33], but this at least scratches some of surface.[6]

To conclude, as seen grief is multifaceted, and complex. Grief affects every part of a being emotionally, physically and spirituality, and as each individual is effected a whole family dynamic is affected.


Bozarth, Alla Renee. 1st ed. Hazelden Publishing, 1994[K35].

Bowlby-West, Lorna. “The Impact Of Death On The Family System”. Journal of Family

Therapy 5, no. 3 (1983): 279-294.

Burke, Laurie, and Robert Neimeyer. “Spiritual Distress In Bereavement:

Evolution Of A Research Program”. Religions 5, no. 4 (2014): 1087-1115.


Fitzgerald, Helen. The Mourning Handbook. 1st ed. New York: Simon &

Schuster, 1995.

Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, MD. “Grief: Loss Of A Loved One Symptoms,

Treatment, Causes – What Is Mourning? – Medicinenet”. Medicinenet. Last modified

2017. Accessed March 13, 2017.


“The Physical And Emotional Effects Of Grief”. Funeralplan.Com. Last modified

2017. Accessed March 15, 2017.


[1] MD Roxanne Dryden-Edwards, “Grief: Loss Of A Loved One Symptoms, Treatment, Causes – What Is Mourning? – Medicinenet”, Medicinenet, last modified 2017, accessed March 13, 2017, http://www.medicinenet.com/loss_grief_and_bereavement/page2.htm.

[2] Alla Renee Bozarth, 1st ed. (Hazelden Publishing, 1994).

[3] “The Physical And Emotional Effects Of Grief”, Funeralplan.Com, last modified 2017, accessed March 15, 2017, http://www.funeralplan.com/griefsupport/griefsteps.html.

[4] Helen Fitzgerald, The Mourning Handbook, 1st ed. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995).

[5] Laurie Burke and Robert Neimeyer, “Spiritual Distress In Bereavement: Evolution Of A Research Program”, Religions 5, no. 4 (2014): 1087-1115, http://www.mdpi.com/journal/religions.

[6] Lorna Bowlby-West, “The Impact Of Death On The Family System”, Journal of Family Therapy 5, no. 3 (1983): 279-294.

[K1]Who is Fumia?  Where does this quote come from – no referencing.

[K2]Is this still part of the first quote??  Appears to come from this site but not referenced http://www.focusonthefamily.com/lifechallenges/emotional-health/coping-with-death-and-grief/understanding-the-grieving-process  “Fumia says it well. When it comes to grieving the death of a loved one, there are no linear patterns, no “normal” reactions, no formulas to follow. The word “grief” is derived from the French word “grève,” meaning a heavy burden. Indeed, the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual implications can be overwhelming.

[K3]Avoid contractions in formal writing

[K4]Quote appears to come from a website rather than the book itself since the breaks in the quote are identical.

http://www.funeralplan.com/griefsupport/griefsteps.html.  Should quote this as the source then. You have it listed as a source in the Bibliography but do not refer to it here so that is improper.


[K6]poor sentence

[K7]poor sentence


[K9]this quote is also found on this site: http://www.funeralplan.com/griefsupport/griefsteps.html.

[K11]Sentence is fragmented

[K12]Verb confusion

[K13]Where did you find this quote?? No footnote.

[K14]Another quote with no footnote.  Oxford textbook of spirituality in healthcare???

[K15]Seems like this would need a reference as well. Very specific, not common knowledge







[K22]makes it a complete sentence


[K24]this example came from the article needs referencing

[K25]added the


[K27]capital letter needed



[K30]Is there supporting material that can be referenced to back this up?

[K31]word use

[K32]word use


[K34]word use

[K35]Missing title of Book


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