When a parent dies, we’re supposed to be prepared for this normal life passage – or at least be more ready to accept it when it happens. We’re supposed to pick ourselves up, close the wound quickly and move on.
After all, the death of a parent is the natural order of things.
But just because it’s common place, doesn’t mean you can or should be expected to simply and quickly bounce back. On the contrary, a parental death can be extremely difficult. It can be unexpectedly devastating and cause considerable upheaval. And the magnitude of the loss can take you by surprise.
Common reactions to a parent’s death
The bond between a parent and a child is one of the most fundamental of all human ties. When your mother or father dies, that bond is torn. This means you’ll naturally feel a whole range of emotions.
While everyone will experience their own unique range of emotions, some of the more common ones include:
- Sadness. While it’s obvious to expect to feel sad when your mother or father dies, you may be surprised at the overwhelming depth of your feelings of loss. It’s natural to feel deeply sad. After all, someone who loved you without condition and cared for you as no one else did is now gone. If this is your second parent to die, you may feel especially sad. Becoming an ‘adult orphan’ can be a very painful transition. Allow yourself to feel sad and embrace your pain.
- Anger. If you come from a dysfunctional or abusive family, you may well feel unresolved anger toward your parent when they die. Their death may bring painful feelings to the surface. Or you may feel angry because a loving relationship has prematurely ended. If you’re angry, try to examine the source of your anger and work to come to terms with it.
- Guilt. If your relationship with your parent was rocky or distant, you may feel guilt when they die. You may wish you had said things that you wanted to say, but never did. Equally, you may wish to unsay things. Or you may wish you had spent more time with them. Guilt and regret can be very normal responses to the death of a parent and working through these feelings is essential to healing.
- Relief. If your parent was sick for a time before their death, you may well feel relief when they finally die. This feeling may be particularly strong if you were responsible for their care. Feeling relief doesn’t mean you didn’t love them. In fact, your relief at the end of their suffering is a natural extension of your love for them.
As strange as some of these emotions may seem at the time, they are normal and healthy.
Let yourself feel whatever you may be feeling. Don’t judge yourself. Don’t try to repress your pain.
Ways to cope with your grief
In the face of so many emotions, coping with your grief may seem like an insurmountable task. But there are things you can do to help make the pathway to healing a little easier.
- Give yourself time. Your grief is unique and your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding their death and the emotional support system you have in place. Because of this, you’ll grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don’t try to compare your experience with that of others or fall into the trap of giving yourself a time limit to deal with your grief. Take it one step at a time, one day at a time. Grieve at your own pace.
- Be kind to yourself. Loss and sadness can leave you feeling fatigued. Thinking clearly and making decisions may be tough. Low energy levels may slow you down. You need to respect what your mind and body are telling you, so nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.
- Treasure your memories. Though your parent is no longer with you physically, they live on in spirit through your memories. Be sure to treasure those memories. Share them with your family and friends. Whether they make you laugh or cry, remember they are a lasting and important part of the relationship you had with them.
- Reach out to others for support. Grieving the loss of a parent may be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done – and hard work is less burdensome when others lend a hand. Seek out people who acknowledge your loss and will listen to you as you openly express your grief. Sharing your pain won’t make it disappear, but it will, over time, make it more bearable. Reaching out for help also connects you to other people and strengthens the bonds of love that make life seem worth living again.
Give yourself the gift of time
For most people, the death of a parent is life altering.
It doesn’t matter whether they were beloved or resented, whether the relationship was close or distant, warm or cold, harmonious or full of conflict. It doesn’t even matter how old you are or how old your parent was at the time of death. What’s important is that you are kind to yourself.
Give yourself time to grief – and reach out for help if you need it.
Want to know more?
For more information about how to deal with the loss of parent, please contact the Walter Carter Funerals team by emailing [email protected].