Bereavement: Losing a Loved One & How it Affects Families

Bereavement is what a person goes through when someone close to them dies.


The loss of a sibling, family member, or loved one from congenital heart disease is painful and sometimes scary. Both patients and families reach a time when they say good-bye at the hospital, at home, or at a funeral. When a young person's life ends before his/her peers, the death brings up thoughts and feelings which can be easier to understand with help from people who have experienced similar losses and want to listen.

Different Ways to Grieve

Grieving involves many different emotions, actions, and expressions, all of which help you come to terms with the loss of a loved one. Grieving includes feelings like anger, sadness, relief, disbelief, and confusion. Each person grieves differently, and you might have feelings different from your parent, family, or friends following the death of your loved one. You might grieve alone or with others, or you might want to write about your feelings. There is no limit on the amount of time for you to feel sad, but if you or others around you notice that you are not interested in eating are sleeping poorly and not doing your usual activities or avoiding your friends, tell a trusted adult and/or counselor that you need extra help with the loss. Part of grieving is saying good-bye and making memories. Did your loved one know her heart would not recover, or was her passing sudden? Some people choose to say their first good-byes at the hospital, while others wait until a funeral or remembrance service to share memories. Some families throw farewell celebrations with their loved one in attendance. You will feel many emotions as news of your loss affects you and your family. You can help make memories by sharing how you feel, making art, writing special letters, planting a flower, helping to make a favorite family meal, or keeping a journal.

If you are recently bereaved or facing bereavement, you may feel overwhelmed and not know where to start, or if you even want to talk. Many resources, some of which are listed in our “Helpful Resources” section are available to you such as:
  • Support groups
  • Local or hospital libraries for books or lists of bereavement organizations
  • Reliable internet websites
  • Healthcare professionals
Coping with your loss is possible, even if it feels impossible on some days. It may feel more like a roller coaster, with ups and downs that make it hard to see that any progress is being made in dealing with your loss. You may feel better for a while, only to become sad again. The memories you make will remind you of what was most special about the time you shared with your loved one.

Coping

Some ways to cope with bereavement include:
  • Recognize and communicate how you feel.
  • Join a support group
  • Understand your own coping process.
  • Seek group or individual grief counseling.
  • Take care of your own health with proper nutrition, exercise, and enjoyable activities.
It takes time to mentally and physically adjust to the changes that come with your loss. It is very important to stay grounded and hopeful for what the future holds for you, the memories of your loved one, and the family and friends she knew. If you find that you are having many sad days in which you are not able to leave the house, or if you find the death sparked or increased an interest in alcohol, drug use, or self-harm, speak with a trusted adult and/or counselor to get extra help. Normal grieving allows us to let a loved one go and keep on living in a healthy way.

Family Changes

Your family might experience unexpected changes during bereavement. You might be asked to temporarily move bedrooms or help with extra chores if grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins come to say good-bye. Adults could cry, shout, or show that they are stressed. Parents might decide to remove the clothes or personal items from your loved one's room. You might have feelings of being left out or overlooked. You could feel overwhelmed if your family asks you to attend a funeral and meet many new people. It is normal to hear adults share memories or stories you do not completely understand. Remember, you are valuable in your family, at your school, and with any activity or sport you do. Tell a trusted adult like a parent or grandparent how you are feeling and share a memory of your loved one if you want to.

You might feel very sad when people leave a funeral or a house, and you realize your friend or family member has died. It is ok to feel sad and to miss him deeply. If you can, think of a happy memory or activity you used to share and imagine how you will do that activity in his memory in the future.

Answering Questions About Death

When a loved one dies, the community he once knew will reach out to you and your family at school, while you run errands, during sports activities, or in other social settings. Though it is uncomfortable for you, people might ask what happened to your best friend, your sister, your brother, or your cousin after they pass away. Practice how you want to respond to those kinds of questions. Consider that most people do not know how to talk about the passing of a young person. Though it is not easy, think of simple answers when you are ready to talk:
  • My friend died from heart problems he had when he was born.
  • My brother died, and I need some privacy with my family right now. Thank you for asking about us.
  • Sarah was my little sister, and she could not get better after her heart surgery.
  • My cousin passed away a few weeks ago when he got sick. We said good-bye with family.

Support Groups and Websites