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Managing Family Strife After a Suicide
Friday, August 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
When a suicide occurs, the surviving family structure undergoes enormous stress as it attempts to reestablish equilibrium.  Traumatic loss is always highly disruptive, and individuals within the family may find themselves needing to balance, or even postpone grief as they mobilize toward the re-creation of a secure base.  Interpersonal conflict within the family at this time represents increased disruption and further distraction from the need to grieve.  It is rather common that immediate and extended family members respond to the suicide death with accusations, threats or relationship cut-offs, resulting in additional and very painful challenges for survivors.   Engaging with conflict and marshalling the energy to defend one’s self, or to protect children from adult issues can derail stabilization efforts and complicate grief for an entire family system in need of grief’s healing processes.      

Managing the strife that can erupt following a suicide loss requires skill and insight, and usually benefits from emotional support from a person outside the family system, such as a grief counselor.  It is helpful to understand what the conflict means for the individuals involved, what needs may be operating underneath the angry expressions and accusations. Typically, conflict that arises around the loss of the loved one is relational, and this can include extended family and in-laws.  Anger, a grief response, is provoked by the pain of the loss, and is often about an individual wanting to protect the person who died by holding others accountable.  The strife can have a historical pattern that is difficult to trace back to a single event, and conflict can stay just under the surface until it is reignited after a suicide loss.  Strife can emerge between family members as a result of an uncertain future created by the loss of the loved one, by trust issues, by maladaptive coping and addictions, by judgments about a person’s grief response or by a survivor’s need for assistance from other family members.  Combative dynamics commonly arise from an interpretation of the death that includes distortions such as guilt, blame and accusations.  And because mental illness and/ or addictions can precede a suicide, the responses that had been directed toward the deceased person have been known to arouse blame and accusations following the death.   When anger takes on a life of disruption or chaos, it diverts survivors from the more vulnerable, healing feelings of sorrow.  Grief and reconstruction are best attended to with stability and introspection.    
 
In-fighting, law suits and harsh words add suffering to the agony of suicide loss.   They are consequences stemming from fears, pain and difficulties with communication.  When one’s child has died from suicide, painful resentments may become evident between spouses, or from bereaved grandparents to the parents of the lost child. When an adult has died, blame and accusations can be directed from in-laws and siblings toward the surviving partner.  There is no easy response to quell the disturbances that attack a survivor at the core.  

How do we understand these dynamics, and what is the best way to respond?  If it is possible to take an objective perspective, know that judgment and blame are likely to be unexamined, unprocessed grief responses.  When the intricate meanings of the loss and the relationship have been examined over time, perspectives can change and mature.  Angry, blaming responses have little understanding of the suicidal mind.  They can be ignorant of the mutual agreements and missed communications between the loved one who died and those who were closest to him or her on a daily basis.  They may not acknowledge the complicated history of the deceased person and other contributing factors.  One survivor may tell himself a story to explain the suicide that allows him or her to avoid directing anger toward the person who died by holding someone else accountable.   Trying to make sense of a loved one’s suicidal act is one of the first efforts in processing the loss, and one of the most difficult.  We need to mourn our notions of the missed communications and opportunities to have prevented the suicide, or the conditions that might have circumvented the perfect storm that engulfed the loved one.  We need to learn more about the way the deceased person may have viewed life, pain and possibilities toward the end of life, to empathize with the loved one’s failure to see any real choice in dealing with pain, even if this decline did not fit the character of the person we knew before the suicide.  We need to realize that each family member had a unique relationship with the person who died, and each one makes meaning of the loss through individualized perspectives that have been shaped by life experiences.  Finally, the suicide should be understood as a private undertaking on the part of the deceased during a time that his or her mind was altered by complex variables.  Suicides can be very difficult to anticipate or prevent.

Because strife can be so destructive to survivors at a time when they are already vulnerable, grief counseling for adults and children is strongly recommended.  Keep in mind that children and youth are affected by adult conflict even if they don’t know the whole story, and they must have a place to process their impressions and feelings without aligning themselves with one side or another.
 
For those who find themselves embroiled in strife after a suicide loss, we hope that you will connect with a counselor or survivors groups in the LOSS Program.  You are not alone.  Many people use the multiple viewpoints of those attending groups to help balance their perspectives.   De-escalation and mindfulness can be established in supportive relationships where feelings can be validated, and clarity regarding your goals and choices can be achieved.  The emotional clearing that is available in one or both of these settings is essential in allowing the grief process to unfold.  Counseling can help with understanding the nature of your conflict, expressing feelings and receiving helpful feedback.  You will learn that conflict resolution is conscious work that helps you to understand your particular conflict style and learn ways of engaging differently.  You will find opportunity to learn skills like listening, reframing and basic negotiation.   

Managing family strife during a time of grief is an incredible challenge that is not easily balanced with the delicate and intricate process of grief.   LOSS support groups and counseling for families, couples and individuals can assist with dynamics that create complicated grief situations.  There is power in calmness and clarity.


Archives:

Managing Family Strife After a Suicide
Friday, August 01, 2014 by Cynthia Waderlow MSE, LCSW
When a suicide occurs, the surviving family structure undergoes enormous stress as it attempts to reestablish equilibrium.  Traumatic loss is always highly disruptive, and individuals within the family may find themselves needing to balance, or even postpone grief as they mobilize toward the re-creation of a secure base.  Interpersonal conflict within the family at this time represents increased disruption and further distraction from the need to grieve.  It is rather common that immediate and extended family members respond to the suicide death with accusations, threats or relationship cut-offs, resulting in additional and very painful challenges for survivors.   Engaging with conflict and marshalling the energy to defend one’s self, or to protect children from adult issues can derail stabilization efforts and complicate grief for an entire family system in need of grief’s healing processes.      

Managing the strife that can erupt following a suicide loss requires skill and insight, and usually benefits from emotional support from a person outside the family system, such as a grief counselor.  It is helpful to understand what the conflict means for the individuals involved, what needs may be operating underneath the angry expressions and accusations. Typically, conflict that arises around the loss of the loved one is relational, and this can include extended family and in-laws.  Anger, a grief response, is provoked by the pain of the loss, and is often about an individual wanting to protect the person who died by holding others accountable.  The strife can have a historical pattern that is difficult to trace back to a single event, and conflict can stay just under the surface until it is reignited after a suicide loss.  Strife can emerge between family members as a result of an uncertain future created by the loss of the loved one, by trust issues, by maladaptive coping and addictions, by judgments about a person’s grief response or by a survivor’s need for assistance from other family members.  Combative dynamics commonly arise from an interpretation of the death that includes distortions such as guilt, blame and accusations.  And because mental illness and/ or addictions can precede a suicide, the responses that had been directed toward the deceased person have been known to arouse blame and accusations following the death.   When anger takes on a life of disruption or chaos, it diverts survivors from the more vulnerable, healing feelings of sorrow.  Grief and reconstruction are best attended to with stability and introspection.    
 
In-fighting, law suits and harsh words add suffering to the agony of suicide loss.   They are consequences stemming from fears, pain and difficulties with communication.  When one’s child has died from suicide, painful resentments may become evident between spouses, or from bereaved grandparents to the parents of the lost child. When an adult has died, blame and accusations can be directed from in-laws and siblings toward the surviving partner.  There is no easy response to quell the disturbances that attack a survivor at the core.  

How do we understand these dynamics, and what is the best way to respond?  If it is possible to take an objective perspective, know that judgment and blame are likely to be unexamined, unprocessed grief responses.  When the intricate meanings of the loss and the relationship have been examined over time, perspectives can change and mature.  Angry, blaming responses have little understanding of the suicidal mind.  They can be ignorant of the mutual agreements and missed communications between the loved one who died and those who were closest to him or her on a daily basis.  They may not acknowledge the complicated history of the deceased person and other contributing factors.  One survivor may tell himself a story to explain the suicide that allows him or her to avoid directing anger toward the person who died by holding someone else accountable.   Trying to make sense of a loved one’s suicidal act is one of the first efforts in processing the loss, and one of the most difficult.  We need to mourn our notions of the missed communications and opportunities to have prevented the suicide, or the conditions that might have circumvented the perfect storm that engulfed the loved one.  We need to learn more about the way the deceased person may have viewed life, pain and possibilities toward the end of life, to empathize with the loved one’s failure to see any real choice in dealing with pain, even if this decline did not fit the character of the person we knew before the suicide.  We need to realize that each family member had a unique relationship with the person who died, and each one makes meaning of the loss through individualized perspectives that have been shaped by life experiences.  Finally, the suicide should be understood as a private undertaking on the part of the deceased during a time that his or her mind was altered by complex variables.  Suicides can be very difficult to anticipate or prevent.

Because strife can be so destructive to survivors at a time when they are already vulnerable, grief counseling for adults and children is strongly recommended.  Keep in mind that children and youth are affected by adult conflict even if they don’t know the whole story, and they must have a place to process their impressions and feelings without aligning themselves with one side or another.
 
For those who find themselves embroiled in strife after a suicide loss, we hope that you will connect with a counselor or survivors groups in the LOSS Program.  You are not alone.  Many people use the multiple viewpoints of those attending groups to help balance their perspectives.   De-escalation and mindfulness can be established in supportive relationships where feelings can be validated, and clarity regarding your goals and choices can be achieved.  The emotional clearing that is available in one or both of these settings is essential in allowing the grief process to unfold.  Counseling can help with understanding the nature of your conflict, expressing feelings and receiving helpful feedback.  You will learn that conflict resolution is conscious work that helps you to understand your particular conflict style and learn ways of engaging differently.  You will find opportunity to learn skills like listening, reframing and basic negotiation.   

Managing family strife during a time of grief is an incredible challenge that is not easily balanced with the delicate and intricate process of grief.   LOSS support groups and counseling for families, couples and individuals can assist with dynamics that create complicated grief situations.  There is power in calmness and clarity.