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Losing a loved one can be an extremely devastating and emotional time for anyone, but sadly, grief can be, and often is, overshadowed by family conflict.

family drama


My stepfather passed away a month ago and instead of mourning, enjoying memories and peacefully handling necessary legal items, my mother has been dealing with stress brought on by his relatives. In this particular situation, most of the tension stems from a lack of trust and respect for my mom, but there are several general reasons for discord surrounding the loss of a shared loved one.

In their article “When Death Brings Out the Worst: family fighting after a death,” program directors Litsa Elizabeth Williams and Eleanor Haley described why people all too often have disagreements after someone passes. They say that even though a will can be extremely beneficial in helping people understand how the deceased wanted their assets and money distributed, family can still find a way to argue over material things. That includes major items such as the selling of a house and burial arrangements to minute items such as keeping certain clothing items and who should sit where at the funeral.

The most interesting piece of information in the article is the science behind why contention can take place at all. Williams and Haley wrote, “When we are in a heightened state due to a death it is harder to think with that rational part of the brain. We default to using the emotional parts of our brains – parts of our brain that struggle with reasoning, memory, and long-term thinking.”

I must admit that the drama surrounding my stepfather’s death is still so fresh that it’s hard to see past hurt feelings. When talking to friends and other family members about their experiences, there always seems to be some type of family conflict that arises. After suffering a loss, is there a way to avoid drama altogether?

In an effort to prevent major family disputes, Attorney Bobak Nayebdadash recommends listing only one trustee, the person who would be in charge of your affairs after you die and updating your trust every five to seven years. While that can help mitigate some issues, others are hard to avoid.

Having an initial conversation with a certain family member when a rift begins to form would be ideal if all parties are willing to discuss all aspects of the deceased person’s estate, arrangements, etc. If not, quickly and maturely talking through any disagreements as soon as they occur and remembering that the most important thing is honoring your late loved one, could help to ease tensions. If possible, avoid having these important conversations via text or email where a person’s tone can get lost.

If someone has already been hurt or feels that a relative is being deceitful or sneaky, talk directly with that person instead of making assumptions about their actions. Instead of “generalizing the negative,” as grief can make people do crazy things, Williams and Haley suggest remembering that a person’s actions should be an exception during the grieving process. “Just like you need to be gentle and forgiving with yourself, you need to be gentle and forgiving with others.”

Although family members should unite to celebrate the life of the deceased, losing a loved one can be really difficult for everyone, and there will be a range of emotions associated with the loss. It especially gets difficult when the deceased was the fabric that held everything together. With that being said, it takes effort to repair and maintain relationships.

When it comes to my situation, I can only wonder if some relationships can be repaired in the future as a few ties in our blended family have already been severed due to poor behavior in the wake of my stepfather’s passing. I can only hope that with prayer, communication and having an open mind, we can get back to where we once were. And back where my stepfather would want us to be.

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