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How to Respond to Grieving Families

             In a conference session entitled "Understanding Grieving Families," bereavement professional Paul V. Johnson highlighted both the individual and relational nature of grief as it occurs within a familial context. "Grief," he states, ".consists of the interplay of individual family members grieving in the social and relational context of the family, with each family member affecting and being affected by the others.".
             Families sometimes erroneously believe that each member's grief will be similar to the others' because they have experienced the death of a specific person within their family system. In reality, however, each family member's grief is unique. The specific nature of the relationship between each family member and the deceased varies, as will the particular history and social context of their relationship. Further, to fully understand grieving families, it is important to recognize that their grief is also affected by the relationships they have with each other and the "emotional legacies" they have created as a family and with the one who died.
             These differing grieving patterns are also affected by the degree to which family members are willing or able to anticipate and prepare for loss, as well as such factors as the gender, age, and maturity or developmental level of each person within the "system." Understanding family grief, therefore, is a task with multiple layers and interplays.
             Assessing Family Grief.
             A critical component of responding to grieving families involves making a thorough assessment of their grief, including the stresses/challenges before them as well as the strengths they exhibit. The goal of the assessment process is to ascertain how much at risk family members are for negative outcomes in bereavement. Such outcomes include long-term distress and poor coping, depression and anxiety, and other symptoms of complicated grief. As described by Cordt T.

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