Grief and Conflict

My father passed away in September 2018,  after fifteen months of battling with cancer. I can’t even begin to put into words, how hard it was to be by his side in his darkest moments or to get to grips with the overwhelming sadness and pain that filled his absence. I’ve never felt such anguish, despair, and deep sorrow and neither was I prepared for the subtle aspects of grief that nobody warns you about. Being ambushed by a desperate need to cry when I heard his favourite song playing in a restaurant; how the beauty of a sunset connects with my loss or just thinking about him on days when he would have been happy.

What does Grief have to do with Conflict ?

Grief shines a light on all of the cracks in your relationships. The reason for this is that it amplifies your own strengths and weaknesses. In my case, I was under so much strain that in other areas of my life, I had to put my own needs first and I wasn’t used to doing that! It upset the balance of many of my personal and professional relationships because I realised that I wasn’t asserting myself in a way that benefited me. It was about survival.

It also brought out the worst in my family relationships. I had high expectations of them. I wanted them to show the same love for my dad as my mother, my brother and I did. He had several siblings, but none of them were truly capable of supporting us when we needed it most. It brought out old resentments, rivalries, jealousy and regrets that had festered all of those years and had never found a voice. My father’s passing led to a huge rift in the family, one that will probably never be healed.

Asset Division and Grief

Troubled family relationships reach breaking point under the crisis of grief. Some family members may feel more entitled to money or assets under a will because they looked after the deceased in their old age. Another may feel that by challenging a will, they are asserting their need to establish fair treatment after a lifetime of feeling inferior to another sibling. Distributing the deceased’s estate in accordance with a will may concrete the perception that a parent favoured one child over another or the estate may be left to somebody completely separate from the family who the children feel are not entitled to the assets.

The tensions that may arise in those circumstances, are worsened after an intense period of illness prior to a person’s death, and anger, according to the Kubler-Ross model of grief[1], is one of the five stages that you might experience. Anger fuels perceptions of conflict and may find its way into feelings about the relationship you have with other family members. It’s no wonder that conflict emerges out of the division of the estate of a deceased person, especially when large, complicated families are involved.

Tips on Dealing With Conflict Whilst Grieving

It’s incredibly hard to deal with life in general when you are grieving and even small disagreements can make you feel vulnerable. However, the tips below are meant to help you to navigate through conflict and emotional turmoil.

  1. Remember that anger is a normal reaction to loss. The circumstances of somebody’s death may increase that anger and understanding that this is natural and normal will help you to explain it to those people you take it out on.
  2. Accept that this is a hard time for you. Sometimes, we feel shame about our emotional reactions but reminding yourself that the grief process takes time to unravel, will help you to be kind to yourself.
  3. You cannot control other people’s reactions, you can only (try to) control your own. That’s not easy when you’re grieving! Knowing this can help to manage your own expectations of your relationships and the psychological contracts you have perceived of the other person.
  4. If you are finding a conflict too much to deal with, ask for help. Ask a trusted friend to help you think clearly about the steps you will take to resolve it and to help with communication.
  5. If family relationships are getting too conflictual, distance might be helpful. If that’s not possible, think about involving a neutral third party, especially if a will is the cause of that.

If you are reading this because you are grieving, I am sorry for your loss and hope that you find peace. If not, hopefully this article will give you some insight into the emotional quagmire of grief.

What do you think? Do you have any tips of your own? Please feel free to leave a comment!


[1] Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving (2014, Scribner)

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