No one grieves the same way or at the same pace. Families reeling from a loss, especially death, struggle with the differences because they don’t understand why others aren’t portraying the same feelings or behaving as him or her. It always bears repeating. No one grieves the same. Our grief is as individual as snowflakes. We have different life experiences and beliefs that shape us. So, don’t judge how others are grieving or not. In the case of children and teens, they often delay their grief because they do not want to add to their parents’ heavy load.
What happens when you are concerned about the way an adult child is handling grief either with substance abuse or some other addiction? Sadly you cannot force anyone to get therapy either individually or in a group setting. My suggestion is that you model healthy grieving by openly crying, talk about your feelings and keep communication open. Be honest with your struggles and fears and try to encourage your adult griever to think about and hopefully verbalize his or her feelings. Remind him or her that you are always there to talk and offer to help with finding someone to help if ever he or she feels the need to speak with someone outside the family. Grief is not a mental illness it is a natural consequence of loving someone who dies or leaves your life in other ways.
Do not try to get your adult child to go to a religious based support group or therapist if he or she is not religious. It won’t work. You can describe grief as a learning experience. It is painful. That has to be acknowledged. Grief doesn’t have to be crippling though, If your adult child turns to substance abuse as a coping mechanism, you must address it as any addictive behavior should be. Do it with love but do not condone dangerous actions. Get help. Denial doesn’t work for anyone involved.
Shirley Enebrad is a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist with 25 years of experience. For her many years of work with pediatric cancer patients and those grieving the loss of a loved one, she received the Jefferson Award for Outstanding Public Service and the Angel of Hospice Award. She is the author of Six-Word Lessons on Coping with Grief and Six-Word Lessons for Surviving a Devastating Diagnosis.