People work their way through their grief at their own speed. Even in the same family, brothers and sisters, parents and children, do not all process their grief at the same pace. Sometimes when a family member seems to be moving at light speed it can be hard for other family members to understand. Moving quickly doesn’t mean they are trying to forget the one who died it just means they, for some reason of their own, need to do, to stay busy. The busyness of doing is this person’s style. It’s how they are coping with the loss.
At the other end of the pace spectrum another family member may seem almost inert. They need to touch and feel and remember. This is their way. Neither is right or wrong but because they are so different, and everyone’s emotions are so raw, the disparity in the pace of grief can strain family relationships.
One of the places where this difference can present itself is in dealing with things. The possessions of the deceased. The slower pace person may find parting with things very troubling. For them these dishes, trophies, books, and clothing are a part of the person they lost. They find comfort in holding, touching, and seeing the belongings of the deceased. For them getting rid of or letting go of these things is just one more loss. They want to sleep in their beloved one’s pajamas and keep as much as possible. Sometimes they need to keep things even when keeping becomes impractical and costly. The speedy one may seem insensitive to this family member. Everyone needs to remember fast is not without feeling. Quick is not easy. It’s just a different way. A different pace of grieving.
So, what motivates the speedy one’s march of activity? Take a moment to think about it. Perhaps this quicker family member has always been a doer? Maybe setting goals, ticking off the to do list is holding them together in their own way. Putting the affairs in order is something they can do when they can’t do what they want to do which is to bring the person they loved back. Slow or quick these are personal styles of coping with loss. Grief is there because there was love. It’s hard no matter the speed.
When you are working with a family member who is frustrating you with their pace, start by taking a deep breath. Take a walk literally or figuratively. Try to get in touch with your own why. Why are you doing what you are doing? What do you really need? See if you can get into the other person’s shoes. Why might they be moving so fast or slow? Then make a pot of tea or coffee and ask for a meeting.
Tell your family member how you want the future to look between the two of you. Let them know how important the relationship you have is to you. Ask, “Can we get through this together?” Work out a timeline. What needs to be done when? Who can do what activity? Are there pressing matters like an estate to settle that will impact the timeline? Use questions to convey what you need. “What if I empty dad’s closet and take those things to go through over the next few months. Then you can have the closet empty, so you don’t have to see his things every day?” Choose your words wisely. Agree to table hot issues and allow time to cool down. Respect the other’s feelings. Be kind. Protect the relationship. Consider bringing in a third party to help you sort out the difficult issues. That could be a grief specialist, your estate attorney, your pastor or a more neutral family member. Before a family relationship becomes spoiled ask for help.