We often hear that the death of a loved one brings people closer together. When we feel safe and can share with others we move in and out of grief feeling supported and stable in the love that we have for the deceased. If people are fighting instead, feelings of loss may be compounded. In my own experience and through a number of stories that have been shared with me, some relationships appear to suffer permanent damage after the loss of a loved one. People who were close to the deceased don’t necessarily share the same perceptions, memories, experiences and/or reality. When one person’s truth is challenged, it can become very painful quickly.
When feelings are R-A-W and normal ‘behavioral filters’ are non existent because of loss and the number of sudden changes that have occurred, a simple conflict can explode into hostile and aggressive behavior quickly. After the death of a loved one, people often grasp onto control because their lives feel completely out of control. It’s hard to ‘let go’ and accept different perspectives because different perspectives challenge our core beliefs. Humans are multifaceted beings. We share different parts of ourselves with different people.
Discord following the death of a loved one typically comes from feelings, not issues themselves. Feelings of inclusion/exclusion in decision making, perceived insensitivity from others, differing beliefs, and the perceived wishes of the loved one can become hot buttons in the days after the death. When someone dies a vacuum is created where there once vitality in someone who expressed opinions, had preferences, made choices, and was part of other people’s lives. After the loss, family and friends are left behind to interpret the deceased’s opinions, preferences, choices, and relationships.
Legally, there are those who are given the right to speak on behalf of the deceased and his/her wishes. The legal structure does not address the complexities of life, death and the emotional realm that make us human. When emotions are raw, it’s hard for people to perceive things from any perspective but their own. When emotions are raw, we feel vulnerable and exposed. We have temporarily lost access to our usual insightful, thoughtful, even tempered and forgiving selves. In an attempt to protect one’s vulnerability, anger, manipulation, divisiveness, and narrow thinking emerge as a way to cope with feelings of vulnerability and fear.
The loss itself can be so overwhelming that rational thinking might be compromised. When multiple people have been affected by loss and all are feeling R-A-W, it can become very difficult to discuss important things like funeral arrangements, wills and service plans. At such a time, it’s natural for each person to become protective of their needs because often their deepest fears have been unearthed by the death. Family dynamics that may have lay dormant for many years can resurface during this time. Relationships with extended family can become threadbare quickly because the deceased was the reason for the two groups of people coming together.
It’s worth repeating a familiar statement, that each person grieves in their own way and in their own time. Perhaps more forgiveness and giving the other person the benefit of the doubt after the death of a loved one, may promote healing and well-being. Maybe taking a step back until emotions are no longer R-A-W before making fresh attempts to heal fractured relationships. When emotions are R-A-W it’s easy to feel but hard to think. The trick is to not ‘act out’ towards others with R-A-W emotions. R-A-W spelled backwards is W-A-R! Stop the W-A-R by focusing on the love for the deceased and what he/she brought into your life.