Familial Grief

Written by Hannah Gambossy

Written by Hannah Gambossy

Hi, I am Hannah. Welcome. Welcome to this piece of my story. I am thankful that you are reading these words because that means that you know about A Haven, which means if you are experiencing grief related to death, you are not experiencing that alone. I am also so sorry that you are here; I am saddened by your pain and I imagine that you are trying to navigate through life without your mother, father, sister, brother, other family member, or close friend. My hope and prayer for you is that the words I write here provide you with a sense of comfort, and maybe even some encouragement in the midst of your heartache.

When I was seven years old my dad died of lung cancer, leaving behind his wife and four children (all of whom were under the age of eleven). I love my mom dearly; I know and believe that she raised us four kids as well as she knew how to do. We were always physically and mentally taken care of by her, but the emotional aspect was a more difficult one.

Aside from my dads’ funeral and memorial service, I have zero memories of talking about the death of my dad as a family. Not one, where we were all gathered together in one room with the intention of talking about my dad or how we were processing his death. If I am honest, I think the first intentional conversation I had with my mom about my dad was in my junior year of college. Of course, there were snippets of his life that were shared occasionally about my dad, but they were few and far between.


I am now 24 and pursuing my Masters in Counseling; there was a class that I took in my second year that focused on grief and loss. One evening (on the seventeenth anniversary of my dad’s death, actu-ally) we were focusing on the familial structure, identifying that there are healthy and less-than-healthy ways to grieve the loss of an immediate family member. I will spare you all of the clinical language, but that evening I learned what it looked like for a family to grieve in a healthy way, causing me to reflect on my own experience in a new way—I was able to name for the first time that, while I believe I grieved well on my own, we did not know how to grieve together as a family.

Grieving as a family in a healthy way looks like allowing each family member the space and room to grieve individually, as well as creating the space to grieve together as a unit. Individual grief is unique to each person; some need to cry it out, others need to talk it out, others need to journal, and others need to visit the gravesite to honor the person who has died. Every individuals’ experience is unique, and every family’s experience is unique. Some families memorialize the person who has died by eating his or her favorite meal together on the anniversary of their death, others will celebrate the deceased person’s life by having treats on their birthday and watching his or her favorite movie together.

The “thing” that your family does to memorialize isn’t really the “point;” rather, the process of remembering, acknowledging the death, and celebrating the person’s life together normalizes grief. It rids the feelings of loneliness and isolation from the grieving experience and encourages the ability to be vulnerable and honest about the difficulty that is losing a person that you love.

What I would like to leave you, precious reader, with is an encouragement to talk about it. I know that this is hard; my dad died seventeen years ago and I still feel vulnerable bringing up these conversations—with my mom, with my older brothers, with my sister. However, since that one class, I try so hard to step into that vulnerability. I think that it matters to acknowledge what has happened, and, I want the knowledge of the memories that my mom and brothers hold about my dad and the person that he was. And I think that that is important. I can’t justify all the reasons as to why this matters, but I strongly believe that I would have healed differently if we would have talked about my dad as a family, grieving him together. I so completely do not blame my mom for our lack of grieving him together, but I wonder if she would have done things differently if she had known that it would have made a difference in each of our healing if this was an ongoing conversation that we all engaged in. So, I hope these words bless you. I hope these words encourage you.

{As a side note, if you are the friend of a person who has lost a family member, you matter so much. My first experience of letting someone into the rawness of my grief was in college with two girlfriends. They played in integral role in my healing process; they broke into my pain and they cried with me and for me, even though they did not fully understand what it was like to watch their father die. They stepped into my heartache and embraced me there, and it meant the world to me.

Michelle NobleComment