Coping with the Death of an Extended Family Member

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Losing an extended family member

No matter what our relationship with them, our extended family members often form an important part of who we are.

The death of  a member of your extended family, whether it’s an aunt, uncle, niece, nephew or cousin, can have a surprising effect on you. We often assume our family units will stay the same forever, so when a relative dies it can leave you feeling shocked, upset and confused.

Different feelings after the death of a relative

  • Distress. The death of a relative can often mean losing someone who loved us unconditionally which can be particularly upsetting. 

  • Anger and regret. Alternatively, if we had a difficult or estranged relationship with the person, you might feel a sense of longing for a connection that never was.

  • Confusion. If your relative played a key role in your childhood,  you may feel like you’ve lost a part of your family history and lost a grasp on your place in the world.

  • Fear of death. The death of an extended family member can bring home the inevitability of our own death, and perhaps make it seem nearer than it was before. 

  • Shock. If you rarely saw the person who died, you may occasionally find yourself thinking they are still alive. It can then be very shocking and upsetting when you realise this isn’t true.

  • Disenfranchised grief: When someone dies, it is common for people to focus their support on the parents, partner or children of the person who died.  Extended family members can sometimes be left to feel their grief doesn’t matter.

Supporting yourself after the death of an extended family member

1. Allow yourself to feel upset

Whether you're feeling shocked, sad, confused or nothing at all. After the death of someone close it's important to allow space for your feelings and know that's it totally okay to feel how you are.

2. Talk to someone

Talking to someone about your family member can be really helpful, even if it is over the phone, internet or social media. You might be able to talk your friends,  other family members or even someone in your community, such as a faith or spiritual leader. Talk to your GP if your health is suffering or call the Cruse helpline if your feelings start to become overwhelming.

3. Find ways to remember them

It can help to think of ways you can remember your family member, and keep them as part of your life. This might mean holding an event in their honour, making a memory box or special album of pictures. You can find more suggestions on ways to remember someone in the Cruse blog. 

4. Plan ahead on anniversaries 

Birthdays, anniversaries and religious festivals can be difficult after someone close to us dies. It can help to think in advance about how you are going to manage. Read our tips on coping with anniversaries.

5. Write down your feelings 

Journalling and letter writing are proven techniques for dealing with thoughts and feelings after a death. Learn more about using journalling to deal with grief. 

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