Losing a loved one is a significant life event.

Losing a loved one is a significant life event.

1. (A. Wit)

Losing a loved one is a significant life event.  There are many different theories on grief and bereavement.  Bowlby describes grief as a process that moves through the stages of shock, protest, despair, and reorganization (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Recent research on grief suggests that emotional and behavioral symptoms are not predictable, nor do they need to occur in a linear fashion (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Counselors that are helping individuals cope with a loss should consider the developmental and cultural influences of each family member rather than prescribe a single grief process strategy.

Factors influencing individual reactions to illness and death

This assignment focuses on the differences in the grief process among family members.  The case study describes a family of six: father, Victor; mother, Isabelle; son, Paul (51); daughter, Sophia (49); daughter, Lenore (45); and son, Joseph (45).  Victor has just passed away after a difficult two-year battle with pancreatic cancer (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Unique factors influence how each family member is grieving.

Isabelle:  older adult, married for 53-years (developmental factors); mother, co-worker, caregiver (social, resiliency factors); Italian (cultural factor)

Paul:  Middle-aged adult, married, father with young children (developmental factors); loving son, business owner, oldest child (social, resiliency factors); Italian (cultural factor)

Sophia: Middle-aged adult, married, mother with young children (developmental factors); working parent (social, resiliency factors); Italian (cultural factor)

Lenore: Middle-aged adult, divorced and remarried, mother (developmental factors); Italian (cultural factor)

Joseph: Middle-aged adult, in a long-term relationship, no children (developmental factors); lives away from the family (social, resiliency factors); Italian (cultural factor)

One factor that influences the family system is conflict over how the family handles Victor’s final stages of life.  Victor had no living will or advance directive.  Isabelle told her children that Victor did not want life support measures to be used to keep him alive.  When Victor succumbed to a coma, Joseph insisted on the insertion of a ventilator without the support of his three siblings.  Since Victor’s death, the relationship between Joseph and his siblings has deteriorated.  Isabelle has quit her job and has trouble concentrating and sleeping.

Coping strategies for the family system

Helping professionals must be willing to meet clients where they are.  The dual-process model of grief suggests that most people coping with the loss of a loved one will oscillate between a loss-focused stage and a restoration-focused stage (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Each family member in the case study will move between these stages with different frequency.  The counselor might consider brief psychodynamic interventions for the siblings and cognitive behavioral therapy for Isabelle.  Research on family systems and grief suggest that conflict within the family constellation should also be considered (Welford, 2014).  According to Welford (2014), reinforcing healthy boundaries in the family system can lead to positive outcomes after a loss.  The counseling process may include a systems approach to understanding the roles and rules of the family prior to Victor’s untimely death.


There is no right way to grieve.  Coping with loss in an inevitable life event for all people.  Counselors that do grief work should consider cultural and developmental factors that influence the client’s needs.  For some individuals a cathartic period of reminiscing is helpful, and for others, minimizing negative emotions is beneficial (Broderick & Blewitt, 2015).  Counselors should be aware of how conflict among family members may influence bereavement.  Helping professionals should consider multidimensional approaches that consider developmental, cultural, and interpersonal factors.


Broderick, P. C., & Blewitt, P. (2015). The life span: Human development for helping professionals (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education

Welford, E. (2014).  Giving the dead their rightful place: grief work with the family system.  Transactional Analysis Journal, 44(4), 320.

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