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Death and Dying

The Family After Death

Froma Walsh and Monica McGoldrick (1991) proposed that in order to successfully adapt to the loss of their family member, the family must do the following:

Recognize the loss as real. Family members must acknowledge the loss as real while each family member shares his or her grief. In order to do this, family members must share emotions and thoughts with each other. Grief is an isolating experience; a sense of acceptance among members would be promoted by displays of tolerance of differences in behavior by family members.

Reorganize and reinvest in the family system. As indicated above, the family system is destabilized by the loss; yet for it to continue to function, order and control must be reclaimed. Family members must reconstruct what family means to them and the roles and related tasks of the person who has died must be reassigned or given up. Family life may seem chaotic at this time and there may be battles over how the family will be reorganized. Differences in grieving may contribute to a feeling of being out-of-synch among family members. To get in-synch, families must reframe, that is, relabel their differences as strengths rather than weaknesses. The family must reinvest itself in normal developmental evolution. Tasks that are carried out as a matter of course in families must again be carried out in the family. This reclaiming of a normal life may be seen by some as abandonment of the deceased loved one. Trying to avoid mention of the deceased may inhibit communication, contributing to a sense of secretiveness in the family. Family members should let each other hold onto the memory until releasing them feels voluntary.

According to Walsh and McGoldrick, open communication is essential to completion of these tasks. This process may be slow, as each family member has strong needs and limited resources after a loss. Family members, who are already more emotional, may not recognize each other's different grief styles as legitimate. Rituals like funerals, religious rites, even family holiday rituals, can be used to facilitate the process of recognition, reorganization, and reinvestment in the family.


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Other Resource

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Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaOther Marriage & Family TopicsDeath and Dying - Death Systems, Family Relationships And Death, The Dying Process—moving Toward A Death, The Family After Death