Grieving the Death of a Parent
No matter what age you are when your parent dies, you will experience grief. Life will not be the same without them. Whether or not you lived with them, spoke or saw them regularly, or had less frequent contact, you may feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself. The circumstances of a parent’s death will affect the intensity of your grief. These factors can include the relationship with the deceased and the individual's age at the time of the parent's death. Some grievers express feeling confused, anxious, guilt, fearful, frustration, and yearning. Whether your grief is intense or mild, the following are suggestions for healing after the loss of a parent.
- Acknowledge the Loss – It takes a while to truly grasp the impact of the loss in your life. This is the grief process. It begins with recognizing the relationship you had with the parent who died as well as beginning to account for all the changes and adjustments that will be taking place. Be gentle with yourself. This can be a long process and often we expect ourselves to proceed through it at a much faster pace than we really do.
- Express your Feelings – Throughout your grief journey, you may experience many strong and unexpected feelings; this is normal. The most important thing is to find your own way of grieving and releasing your feelings. Some people are very comfortable talking, while others are not. Some people are writers, readers, athletes, artists, and musicians, and express their feelings in that way. There are as many ways to express feelings as there are people. Find the way that works for you and do not compare yourself with others as this is your own unique journey.
- Practice Saying No – Friends and family may try to encourage you to do things, to stay busy and/or get over it. You decide when, what, and how you want to do things. This may be a powerful time in your life to get in touch with what is most important to you and follow through with it. “No” is a reasonable response to many questions and offers. Give yourself permission to practice this.
- Find Support – As the days, weeks, and months go by following your parent's death, you will realize that certain people are more present and helpful than others. You may naturally gravitate in their direction. It may be especially helpful to spend time with people who knew your parent. If this is not possible, support groups enable you to connect with others who understand your experience and can be supportive to you during your grief journey.
- Observe Family Roles – Roles in the family will slowly be redefined after a parent’s death. It is not your job to take care of everyone in the family. When a parent dies, all family members will grieve in their own way, in their own time. Once again, do not compare your grief with others in your family. Be aware of how relationships were before the death, how they have changed, and where you feel your place is now in the family. Communication and compromise are critical during this time of transition.
- Connect with People who knew your Parent(s) – It can be wonderful to find people who know your family as they can share memories, stories, and pictures of favorite experiences that were shared with your parent. This can be a rewarding experience. Collect the memories and keep them in a safe place to look at and reflect upon.
- Create Rituals – Rituals help you acknowledge and mourn the death of your parent. Be creative and design a ritual that reflects your relationship with your deceased parent. It may be as simple as lighting a candle and spending a minute remembering him/her or as grand as offering an opportunity for others to share their memories in the form of a service.
- Look Ahead – Looking ahead means holding all that is important to you about your deceased parent and incorporating that into your life as you continue to live after your loss. Be open and mindful to learning about yourself as you figure out how to cope with your loss. If this is your first parent to die, not only are you grieving, but you may be feeling helpless as you observe your surviving parent’s grief. Perhaps you feel a sense of responsibility towards your surviving parent. This can be overwhelming, and you may find it hard to focus on your own grief. If this is your second parent to die you may be re-visiting this experience. Remember grieving is hard work – it can be physically, psychologically, spiritually, emotionally, and cognitively exhausting. Take care of and be gentle with yourself. Those same memories that currently bring you to tears will, in time, be a source of comfort and may even bring a smile.