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Is this a normal grief reaction?

(46 Posts)
Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 09:33:48

My uncle died, aged 81, in April. He had been a widower for many years and had a very close relationship with his daughter, his only child. They lived a couple of streets apart, saw each other every day, did their weekly supermarket shops together etc.

Uncle had three serious health issues in his 70s (cancer, blood clot in his leg, heart bypass) and bounced back each time. He was in excellent health when he turned 80.

Unfortunately a few months later he fell, put out his hand to save himself and broke his arm badly. Scans showed osteoporosis. It did heal, but he didn't have the strength in it, or the movement, he'd had before. His daughter started visiting every morning before work as well as seeing him in the evening and a carer came midday. He then became very ill very quickly and was admitted to hospital, but fortunately it was a UTI which was cleared up with antibiotics, and he got back home. The carers started visiting twice a day.

He was in remission from the previous cancer, but had regular check ups, and it was found that the cancer had returned. And then he took ill again, was admitted to hospital, diagnosed with pneumonia and died in hospital a few days later.

His daughter is convinced that he'd have recovered from the pneumonia if the hospital had treated him "properly." She has tried to get other family members to say that he was in good health prior to the last admission to hospital. No-one will say that - various cousins visited him in the last few months and we all thought he was becoming very frail. She is wanting to pursue a case against the hospital, but no-one in the family agrees with her. She's been saying stuff like "Pneumonia isn't serious - people don't die of pneumonia" when, obviously, they do, especially when they have underlying health issues such as cancer.

She has been abusive towards family members who won't back her up; angry phone calls, abusive texts. It's impossible to communicate with her. For instance I sent her a message on Father's Day saying I knew that it would be a difficult day for her, and I was thinking about her and she replied "Fuck Off! How dare you suggest I only miss Dad on special days. I miss him every day". She's describing family members who are doing things such as going on holiday, or celebrating birthdays, as insensitive and despicable, and tells us that she doesn't want to speak to any of us unless we agree that her father was in good health up to the point he was admitted to hospital, and that she should take matters further.

Is this a normal reaction? How do we react?

VeryButchyRestingFace Thu 13-Jul-17 14:04:37

It does sound a bit extreme. Is she married? Does she have kids?

Has she managed to get back to her job?

MurielsBottom Thu 13-Jul-17 14:19:15

Although her reaction sounds extreme, my aunt was a little like this when my dm died last year. Aunt started saying things about how poorly the hospital had treated her and it just isn't true. I don't see my aunt often as we live a long way but I am sure she is still chuntering on. I think it is part of her grief process.

I do think you need to try and ignore the behaviour. She will process her grief in time.

ChrisPrattsFace Thu 13-Jul-17 14:23:37

It sounds like a very severe stage of denial? Particularly surrounding his generally health beforehand.
Sorry you're going through this OP, I hope with time she sees things clearer!

strikealight Thu 13-Jul-17 14:25:37

My mum survived pneumonia twice while being treated for lung cancer which eventually killed her.
The reaction is extreme but the experience of losing an relative who's in the care of the NHS can be bewildering.
I hope she gets the help and the answers she needs.

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 14:29:35

Not married, no kids. She was very close to her father, saw him at least every day for the last few years since her mother died, and at least twice a day since he broke his arm.

She took over a month off afterwards but was back at work by the end of May. I'm assuming that she's coping at work; she has a good job.

She's claiming that he should have recovered fully from the pneumonia, and that the cancer treatment would also have been successful had he lived to complete it. She's saying that the fact that he was treated successfully for cancer once is proof that he could have been treated successfully a second time.

She is making no sense whatsoever, and is very hostile to any family member who doesn't agree with her.

RhubardGin Thu 13-Jul-17 14:35:32

There isn't a "normal" grief reaction, it's different for everyone.

With no partner or kids it sounds like her Dad was her whole world.

There are 5 stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This could explain why she is so angry and looking to blame. She hasn't accepted what has happened and won't for some time.

Hopefully she'll come round in time and she'll need her family and friends to be there when she does.

rizlett Thu 13-Jul-17 14:38:09

How old is your cousin op? Is this behaviour totally out of character for her?

Grief will affect different people in different ways so its tricky to say if this is grief or some other issue.

Were you wondering if it was a mental health issue?

Notmyrealname85 Thu 13-Jul-17 14:43:20

She's probably really angry at having lost him, especially when he survived so much other stuff (she's wrong on blaming the hospital tho) - she probably just needs time for this to subside, might take longer than others to go through the stages if they were so close

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 14:49:17

rizlett, she's in her late 40s. Yes, I'm wondering if it's a mental health issue, because she is not stupid (good degree, good job) but she's saying some bizarre stuff.

rizlett Thu 13-Jul-17 14:55:06

So maybe unusual behaviour - even given the circumstances?

How long ago did her father die?

There are 5 stages of grief and people move back and forth between the stages - it's not a linear process. It can take a long time for people to process and some people never do.

It's quite a normal part of grieving to hate other people for 'moving on' and to find reasons other than the truth to be the cause.

Pneumonia is a high cause of death in older people. (but of course your cousin won't appreciate you saying that.)

Would you be able to call just to listen to how she feels?

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 14:58:16

What do we do in the meantime, while she's processing? Ignore her?

Every time I've contacted her she has been hostile. E.g. "Hi, cousin, sorry I missed your call, I was at the kids' swimming lessons, no phones allowed there" "Why the fuck do you think I want to know about you having fun, going swimming with your kids?"

VeryButchyRestingFace Thu 13-Jul-17 15:06:26

Can you block her from seeing your posts on FB, OP? (I don't mean unfriend her).

I'm in somewhat similar circumstances to your cousin in that I lost my mum very suddenly in April too. I'm not married either, no kids, and she was my own close relative. Your cousin's extended family sound a lot more caring/involved than mine though!

I'm seeing photo after photo of relatives who haven't even bothered to call since the funeral clogging up my FB timeline, and whilst it grates, I wouldn't dream of calling them out on it, far less abuse ppl who'd texted me caring messages!

There's only so much you can do. Does she have any close friends?

strikealight Thu 13-Jul-17 15:15:06

I'd suggest you say to her that firing her anger at you and the rest of the family is only causing more hurt.
If she genuinely believes that the hospital treated her father badly she should get legal advice.
It's really hard for her to fight if she's in such deep grief. She is doing herself no favours by alienating you.
She should also seek grief counselling.
I don't know if she is right or wrong about the way her father was treated but she can't fight properly if she is so beaten down by grief.
She's right that pneumonia doesn't automatically mean death for an elderly cancer patient. And it can be something they get in hospital.
She's not ready or willing to let go but she is hurting herself.

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 15:17:06

I have been blocking some FB posts, which I think might antagonise her. I don't know about close friends; the amount of time she spent with her father must have restricted her social life. She didn't seem to have many friends at the funeral.

I've stopped calling, as has at least one other cousin. I reply if she contacts me, though.

stuntcamel Thu 13-Jul-17 15:24:09

Next time you get a hostile text from her, reply and tell her that you don't appreciate her speaking to you like that, it wasn't your fault her dad died, and you won't speak to her again unless she can be polite to you.

She needs shocking (slightly) out of this rollercoaster of grief she's on. Actually, I think she's gone a bit beyond just grieving, but there isn't a whole lot you would be able to do if she's unable to listen to calm reason at the moment.

But you don't have to put up with her behaviour, so tell her not to be so rude to you.

VeryButchyRestingFace Thu 13-Jul-17 15:34:46

But you don't have to put up with her behaviour, so tell her not to be so rude to you.

I tend to agree with this.

Whilst the loss is devastating for your cousin, the death of an 81 yo from natural causes is, objectively speaking, not a tragedy.

The idea that extended family should all be wearing sackcloth and ashes and not even take their children swimming months after an elderly relative dies is a bit unhinged.

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 15:37:42

strikealight, she has had legal advice. The solicitor she saw wouldn't take her on. I don't know if she's trying to find one that will.

He was admitted to hospital (emergency admission by ambulance) and pneumonia diagnosed there. He didn't get it in hospital.

exexpat Thu 13-Jul-17 15:51:53

Pneumonia is a very common cause of death in cancer patients - my sister died of it while being treated for breast cancer, and she was 30 years younger than your uncle. It is also a very common cause of death for frail elderly people in their 80s, even those who don't also have cancer. I very much doubt she will get anywhere with a complaint or legal proceedings against the hospital, but I don't think there is anything you can do to make her see sense at the moment.

Maybe try writing a letter saying you understand her grief and anger, but that you don't think the hospital can be blamed for her father's death, and suggest that she seeks bereavement counselling instead?

KeepOnKeepingOn1 Thu 13-Jul-17 16:05:16

Did he receive treatment for pneumonia? Both my dad and mum have pneumonia listed as cause of death. Neither received treatment. It is potentially fatal for anyone that contracts it but it does seem that some people - elderly, pre-existing conditions esp cancer and even learning disabled (i.e. Vulnerable) are not treated as this is seen as death by natural causes and even as a 'blissful release' where medical staff see quality of life as low. I contracted pneumonia when I was 35 and a new mother and so received treatment. I can see why she might be angry.

redexpat Thu 13-Jul-17 16:41:06

Grief can manifest as irritation, but I dont know how far that stretches. As a PP said a calm measured response along the lines of I know you are angry but I wont be spoken to like that. She is clearly trying to blame someone for his death which I think is also a natural reaction. I would perhaps gently suggest she get some grief counselling and then see how she feels about legal action.

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 16:53:14

KeepOnKeepingOn he was admitted into a general ward until they diagnosed pneumonia, and was them moved to a respiratory ward. He was on anti-biotics, and on a drip (or it might have been intravenous anti-biotics, rather than a drip), had a dietician discuss his diet, was on oxygen (the wee tube below his nose) and intermiitently was on a nebuliser. He had a specialist non-respiratory nurse visit him on the ward, not sure if she was a cancer or an osteoporosis specialist. That's based on what I saw myself when visiting , or which was seen by either my adult niece or another cousin during their visits.

Our impression was that he received excellent care and that he was definitely being treated.

Hassled Thu 13-Jul-17 16:58:19

So if there's no logical reason for her to pursue the hospital and she was, prior to the death, a reasonable/logical woman, it has to be the grief and the denial that's part of grief talking. It's a distraction technique - if she can keep finding someone/something to blame, she doesn't have to address the fact her father's gone.

If there was anyway you could point her in the direction of an organisation like Cruse for some counselling that would be helpful - but I can see that's going to tricky.

Baffledcousin Thu 13-Jul-17 17:06:01

I have suggested bereavement counselling, I don't know if it's something she's considering.

Gingernaut Thu 13-Jul-17 17:06:05

Pneumonia isn't called 'the old man's friend' for nothing.

Pneumonia kills relatively healthy younger people, let alone someone as frail and as ill as your uncle.

I've seen reactions like this in my own family, but not as severe and without the 'benefits' of social media.

Sorry, I know that's no help. flowers

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