Managing A Family Crisis

James Krehbiel

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I believe that a family crisis has a way of either bringing family members closer together or fragmenting relationships. There appears to be no middle ground. When a loved one is ill or dies, do the children and relatives rally around each other, or do they hold grudges, fight and feud?

Emotional intensity during a family trauma can open up wounds experienced by those involved. All of the unresolved family baggage has a way of reappearing and rears its ugly head. The added stress of grief and loss can create reactivity that makes it difficult for caretakers to communicate effectively with one another.

Instead of working in harmony during a stressful crisis, the family may engage in disputes over medical treatment, medical decisions, issues of control over caretaking, financial implications, and the manner of managing grief and loss. Being at odds with one another during a period of crisis only compounds the magnitude of the problem.

Family members need to learn to set their differences aside for the well-being of all concerned. Difficult family stressors are painful enough without events being exacerbated by caretakers who choose to let their resentments affect their decision-making and support.

These suggestions may help guide you during your time of crisis, grief and loss:

  • Focus your attention on the family member who is ill or has died.

  • Learn to experience your grief appropriately, through sharing, crying, seeking support from others, and re-focusing on positive memories.

  • Set up a family meeting with all the concerned caretakers and discuss plans and decisions to be made. Make a pact to stay committed to working through the stressful event without personal issues interfering.

  • Use this time to forgive one another. Forgiveness is a powerful tool in managing stress and grief.

  • Bring out the best in one another by sharing your emotional pain openly.

  • Delegate responsibilities for caretaking.

  • Plan ahead - make sure that all legal matters are in order including a living will and trust that is specific in nature.

  • Fighting over heirlooms is a waste of valuable energy – material things are insignificant compared to the value of our closest relationships. Don’t let feuding over objects ruin a relationship. It’s not worth it. People are more important that things.

  • Seek the assistance of hospice, hospital social workers, and other supportive agencies to assist the family.

    Maintaining harmony during a family crisis is difficult. However, family members who work together as a team can support and help everyone navigate difficult times.

    James P. Krehbiel is an author, contributing writer, and cognitive-behavioral therapist. Sample chapter of his new book, Stepping Out of the Bubble: Reflections on the Pilgrimage of Counseling Therapy are available at The writer can be reached at

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