THE BLOG
08/29/2014 01:33 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

5 Tips for Dealing with a Natural Death of a Family Member

Little did I know that today I would be moved to write a second blog on celebrity loss. Earlier in the day I penned an article on the tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman, only to read hours later on my iPhone that legendary actress Lauren Bacall died. Like so many, I was stunned and in a state of numbness upon hearing of Robin Williams' death -- his passing seemed unbelievable. Lauren Bacall is a beloved icon, and yet my response to news of her death at the age of 89 was drastically dissimilar to my grief for Mr. Williams and Hoffman who were decades younger when they died.

In the news coverage following Bacall's death I was relieved to see that she was truly honored, rather than the status quo inundation of "shock and awe" following a celebrity's death. Hearing about her death brought sadness for the loss of a person who had truly lived a full life. I believe that her death gives us, both personally and as a culture, the opportunity to deal with grief and loss, and especially the rhythm of the life cycle. We can truly celebrate her life and all of her accomplishments. Hers was a life well lived. She wrote not one but two memoirs -- Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman were still living out their adventures at the times of their deaths. Ms. Bacall's life narrative had a rich beginning, middle and end, whereas Williams and Hoffman seemed to leave the stage mid-scene with so much more story to tell. That being said, I also feel that a death at any stage within the life cycle should not be minimized. Losing a loved one, no matter his or her age, or yours, is devastating and not to be trivialized.

In the recent deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams, the media's attention has focused on their surviving children. In Mr. Williams's case, his daughter was so cruelly harassed she stopped using social media, and much has been made of Mr. Hoffman's will and provisions for his children. Bacall had three children and several grandchildren who will deeply grieve her loss. The number one search on our website, www.opentohope.com, is for those seeking help following death of a parent. The death of a mother or father is devastating no matter when the loss occurs in the life cycle. Below are five tips for dealing with the loss of an elderly loved one.

  1. Don't minimize your loss. The loss of an elder can leave a big hole in your and your children's hearts.
  2. Be aware of the impact of the death even though it was a long, well-lived life. Remember that some family members may find the death shocking, sudden and staggering regardless of the age of the deceased, and honor their reality -- there is no "right" way to mourn.
  3. Journaling about your loved one's life can be helpful. What were the turning points in his life story? Which accomplishments was she most proud of?
  4. Sharing memories with others is key. You can record memories for personal use later. Don't worry if your emotions are raw, or about the quality of the recording. As time goes by these memories will become even more precious.
  5. With high-profile family members you might want to select a family member or friend to represent the family to the press. In commenting about the deaths of celebrities on-line, remember that each person is someone's irreplaceable mother, father, son, daughter, husband or wife.

Loss leaves a hole in our hearts at any age. In the case of a death from natural causes, particularly if the loved one was elderly, emotions may vary through the family. Take care to be compassionate with each other and not judge other family members' reactions to a death. A person who has spent several years as a caretaker may feel guiltily relieved that the loved one's suffering has ended, while a young grandchild may feel shocked by the abrupt disappearance of a beloved and vital figure in her life. Make it a habit at family gatherings to mention your deceased loved one, to share stories and talk about what was important to him or her. There are so many beautiful lessons to be learned from a life well lived.