Significant life events have the power to change us and the people around us. They shift the way we think about our relationships, the way we spend our time, and sometimes even our mortality.
When a death occurs in one’s family, it can have a ripple effect on everyone who knew the deceased. And the impact on the deceased’s family is likely the largest of all.
Here’s a brief explanation on how death can change families – to help you feel a little more prepared (if that’s even possible) when the inevitable happens.
Every family is different
No two families respond to death in the same way. While your friend Sam’s family might openly talk about death and illness – sans any fear or caution – it’s totally normal if your family responds in the opposite way. We all experience different emotional responses to major life events (or even super minor events, like leaving your work lunch at home or breaking a glass), so accept your family’s response. It’s likely the way they feel most comfortable grappling with something so difficult, so allow them to do what feels right for them without any judgement or expectations.
It’s also important to acknowledge when your emotional response might differ from your family’s. If you feel you want to speak more openly about your deceased loved one or wish you could talk about all-things death with your family but they don’t appear to want the same? Chat to your friends or seek additional support from a therapist or psychologist. It’s essential you find a way to grieve and acknowledge death in a way that feels natural and comfortable to you.
The changes can begin before the death occurs
Unfortunately families can change in the lead up to a loved one passing away; before they’ve even died. This can be due to the acknowledgment that you’re all about to lose someone very important to you, or the nervousness surrounding what might happen once they’re gone.
In addition to those changes though, our lives can become pretty focussed on the person who is dying. We spend more time with them – chatting, hanging out, making them food, caring for them, running errands for them and speaking to doctors and specialists to provide updates on their condition and receive advice on next steps. As a result, our daily routines can become more spontaneous and we can feel as though we lack control over our day-to-day lives.
Make sure you check in with your loved ones during this time. Chances are, they’ve noticed the changes too and would want to feel a little less alone.
Your go-to family member might shift
Many of us are more dependent on some family members than others. We know who to turn to when we’re having a tough time, need an extra pair of hands (or legs) when we have too many errands to run, are looking for advice on issues big and small, and when we’re just in the mood for a big ol’ chat.
When a family member is dying (or has died), we might be losing that go-to person. Or, alternatively, the dying person’s primary carer might be your go-to person which could mean it might not be appropriate for you to contact them every time you need something – their priorities have likely shifted.
This can be extremely challenging, and there’s no ‘right’ way to go about finding your ‘new’ go-to person, especially as everyone is likely grappling with the same (or similar) changes in their own familial relationships. Just be kind to yourself, and lean on friends where you can. They likely will have your back too, especially during this time.
Estate distribution can make things uncomfortable
If you’ve been reading our guides for a while now, you’d likely know all about the ins and outs of estate distribution and how challenging the process can be amongst family members – especially siblings.
Talking about money and assets can be awkward at the best of times, but talking about someone else’s money and assets can be even more uncomfortable, and the conversation can often lead to arguments and drama.
The best way to avoid disputes over a loved one’s estate is to encourage them to write a legal Will while they’re still healthy and able to do so, detailing their wishes around the division of their estate.
It goes without saying that the loss of a family member can change the dynamics of your whole family. Sometimes it can bring you all closer together and other times it can cause strain in relationships. Remember that every family is unique and relationships can be complex. It’s important to give yourself time to grieve in a way that feels meaningful to you, and to give the same grace to other family members. Grief can begin before a death has occurred and those you were once close with may be less available for a period. By offering your support to those nearest to you, you will be best placed to ensure your relationships with one another grow stronger, despite the testing times.
It might also be worth writing your own legal Will – no matter how young or healthy you are – so that your estate can be dealt with as easily as possible when the inevitable happens.