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Wed Jul 16, 2014, 06:39 PM

Surviving the Death of a Parent (as an adult)

I was a grief and loss counselor for many years, and used this handout frequently in my work. I hope others find it helpful.

Surviving the Death of a Parent

The parent-child relationship is often the most important of all human ties. Most people learn how to be in the world through their parents; the feelings and memories run deep. The pain immediately following their death can be intense. You may also find that the death of a parent causes other losses, such as the loss of a grandparent to your children. It is important to remember that there are some things you can do to make your grief more bearable.

Let yourself grieve in your own way and at your own pace. There is no “right way” to mourn. There is also no timetable for grief, no exact moment when you should “feel better” or “get over it.” Grieving is not about “getting over” the death. It is about expressing your sorrow, sharing your memories, and learning how to go forward with your life. With time, you will find that your memories bring more pleasure than pain, and that you still have an ongoing connection with your parent.

Allow yourself to feel. Feeling sad, lonely, and disoriented after the death of a parent is natural. If your parent was ill for a long time before the death, you may feel some relief that their suffering is over, especially if you were responsible for your ill parent's care. If the death was sudden, when the shock wears off you may feel cheated that you didn’t have a chance to say goodbye. If your relationship with your parent was conflicted, you may feel anger or guilt about unresolved issues. If this was your second parent to die, you may feel especially distressed; becoming an "adult orphan" can be very painful.

Sometimes the intensity of your emotions can be frightening; you may feel as if you’ve lost control of your emotions or are “going crazy.” Painful as these feelings can be, they are all part of the natural response to the death of someone loved. Expect ups and downs, and be patient with yourself. The intensity of these feelings will subside over time.

Recognize the death's impact on your entire family. If you have brothers or sisters, the death of your parent will most likely affect them differently than it is affecting you. The death may also stir up family conflicts, such as disagreements about the funeral or arguments about family finances. Or you may find that the death of your parent brings you and your family closer together. If you have young children or teenagers, they will need support as they grieve the loss of their grandparent; if you are too grief-stricken yourself to provide this support, enlist the help of other family members or friends. Finally, when there is a surviving parent, try to understand the death's impact on him or her; the death of a spouse will mean different things to your surviving parent than it does to you.

Take care of yourself. Grief takes an enormous amount of energy, and often disrupts eating and sleeping patterns. Getting regular exercise can help you sleep better and lowers your risk of depression. Try to eat regular, nutritious meals. As best you can, try to get enough sleep. Take naps during the day if you find you can’t sleep at night. Lighten your schedule as much as possible, and don’t be too hard on yourself when you can’t get as much done as you’re used to.

Express your grief. Find your own personal style for expressing your grief. If you find that talking helps, seek out people who acknowledge your loss and will listen to you as you express your grief. Or maybe you like to write; consider writing a letter to your parent expressing your thoughts and feelings, or writing in a journal. Some people prefer creative outlets for their grief, exploring and healing through drawing, music, or other artistic expression. Others may chose physical outlets for their grief, such as exercise or gardening.

Find support. Sharing your pain with others won't make it disappear, but it might make it more bearable. Find those who are comfortable listening to you, who encourage you to be yourself, and who can accept all of your feelings without imposing their own ideas of how you should be grieving. Some people find a support group or grief counseling helpful; often just a few sessions can help you feel less alone.

Find peace in your own spiritual process. For some people, religion is exceptionally helpful in the grieving process. However, personal faith does not make one immune to grief, or to the spiritual doubts grief can raise. Find safe avenues to explore your feelings, thoughts and questions. Take spiritual comfort where you can.

Be prepared for holidays and special occasions, especially during the first year. After the loss of a parent, there are certain special days – holidays, anniversaries, birthdays – that may feel particularly painful. Often the anticipation of the day is worse than the day itself – making plans ahead of time for how to spend the day can make it easier to get through. Some people find it helpful to celebrate in an different way than they would have before their parent’s death. Some may not feel like celebrating at all, and choose to bow out of family functions, while others find comfort in the company of friends and family. The anniversary of your parent’s death may be especially hard; you may find comfort in special rituals, prayers, or other activities that memorialize your parent and celebrate their lives and legacy.

Give yourself time. As much as possible, postpone making major decisions. If circumstances allow, do not move, change jobs, or make any large changes to your life until the intensity of your grief subsides. Don't force yourself to go through your parent’s belongings until you are ready. You’ll know when you have the energy and desire to face this task. Most importantly, be patient with yourself as you get used to all the changes grief brings.

Remember -- healing doesn't mean forgetting your parent. Your parent, and your relationship with them, will always be a part of you, kept alive in your memories.

The Community Hospice, Inc. 2006

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Arrow 9 replies Author Time Post
Reply Surviving the Death of a Parent (as an adult) (Original post)
DeadLetterOffice Jul 2014 OP
Flaxbee Dec 2014 #1
orleans Dec 2014 #2
DeadLetterOffice Jan 2015 #9
SoapBox Jan 2015 #3
DeadLetterOffice Jan 2015 #4
SoapBox Jan 2015 #5
DeadLetterOffice Jan 2015 #6
SoapBox Jan 2015 #7
DeadLetterOffice Jan 2015 #8

Response to DeadLetterOffice (Original post)

Fri Dec 19, 2014, 09:55 PM

1. Thank you for this, DLO...

My mother died in October, a few weeks before her 80th birthday (my father died 4 years ago) and I have days of OK and days of really not OK at all. I have two sisters who are very helpful and are in this with me and we have each others' backs, but my spouse thinks grieving is morbid and someone I had considered my best friend of over 20 years simply wrote an email that said "I'm sorry". That's it. I got more compassion from neighbors and strangers than my friend so I feel like I'm mourning the loss of what I thought was a solid friendship, too.

My mother was wonderful. Her death was not unexpected, she had lived a long life, but my world is so different without her.

The "adult orphan" feeling is weird, too.

This first Christmas without her is going to be tough. Hell, every day at 6pm is tough, because that's when we always talked.

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Response to Flaxbee (Reply #1)

Mon Dec 22, 2014, 12:24 AM

2. i'm sorry to hear about your mom

sometimes it seems the universe overwhelms us with too much loss too soon (i'm referring to the loss of your dad four years ago).

and i'm sorry about your friend. i had a somewhat similar thing happen to me and it was a hard pill to swallow. (it was rather incredible, actually, and not in a good way)

the firsts are always hard without a loved one (as i'm sure you know. and the seconds can be just as bad--at least they were for me. i'm about to have my sixth christmas without my mom--and i've finally reached a level that leaves me feeling numb and indifferent rather than devastated although i suspect i'll have several bouts of crying before the year is up)

i've come across people who feel that it's best to keep busy, occupied, preoccupied, not to think about the loved one that has gone, avoid thinking about them at all costs & just move on. apparently that type of behavior works for them. when engaged in this type of conversation i have only said that i was grieving or still grieving for my mom a few times. what i usually say is that i'm just so damn sad because i miss her so very much. (i put it in terms of how i feel & how i miss her. they can't really argue with that. maybe that would help your spouse be a bit more understanding rather than thinking your grief is morbid. after all, how is missing someone you loved being morbid?)

wishing you peace and comfort.

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Response to Flaxbee (Reply #1)

Sun Jan 25, 2015, 05:30 PM

9. Thinking of you...

... and hoping the holidays were at least bearable.

This first Christmas without my dad was... odd. We weren't close emotionally of geographically, but knowing what my mom was going through missing him was sad-making.

I hope too that you've found some better supports that you had at first. People get weird about death, don't wanna think about it, don't know what to say, so they get all avoidant and silent. Not a helpful thing when you're already feeling bereft.

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Response to DeadLetterOffice (Original post)

Fri Jan 23, 2015, 12:21 PM

3. My dear, dear Mom...passed away last night.

...a week shy of 94...from a silly fall.

Bookmarking to read...I'm just heart broken...she was my best friend and lived with us for the last 5 years. We now have a terrible empty place in our home.

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Response to SoapBox (Reply #3)

Fri Jan 23, 2015, 03:15 PM

4. I'm so sorry SoapBox

The best advice I can give you is to give yourself as much time and space to grieve as you need. The people who want to rush you back into 'normal' are best ignored for as long as possible.

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Response to DeadLetterOffice (Reply #4)

Fri Jan 23, 2015, 10:29 PM

5. DLO...

I sincerely appreciate your message.

I think I made it through one actual conversation today without crying...but so many other things just trigger those tears...Mom's Handicapped Parking Permit dated 01-30-2015; when we got that, she said she would never live until it expired. Her hot pink shower ball, had fallen to the floor of the shower...found it when we got back around 3AM. And at the table tonight...my sister or niece had placed back a dining chair, that hasn't been at the table since Mom came 5 years ago, as she would sit there in her wheelchair.

I know...only 24 hours but hurts so much more than I had ever considered.

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Response to SoapBox (Reply #5)

Fri Jan 23, 2015, 11:12 PM

6. Landmines abound in the first days, weeks, & months.

They get less frequent, eventually, but for now just expect that there's going to be a zillion things a day that set you off. And that's the way it should be - loss should hurt, it's a product of how fiercely we love. Let yourself feel however you feel, whenever you feel it. Even when what you feel is numb.

And just keep breathing. Everything else will come in due time.

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Response to DeadLetterOffice (Reply #6)

Sun Jan 25, 2015, 02:03 AM

7. There is so much to do...

It will all be tough...but I'm already scared of being left in the house alone, with the dog, even during the day. Before Mom came, I loved it but after 5 full years of 3 meals a day, dishes, pills, eye drops, doctor visits, laundry, showers and hair (in between appointments, I would roll up her hair for her), shopping (she loved to go shopping!), telling her what was on QVC and HSN, trips to San Diego to visit her granddaughter and her great grandsons...and more...the blank spot in our home is going to change our lives...my partner, who helped her on Saturday or Sunday when I worked...and found her on the floor when he came home from work before me, is destroyed.

Our entire lives have changed in what seems like an instant...

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Response to SoapBox (Reply #7)

Sun Jan 25, 2015, 05:25 PM

8. The empty space is SO noticable, it's like a constant poke.

It will get more bearable over time, but that doesn't help in the right-now of the loss.
Be patient with yourself. It's hard and it hurts and you don't have to be okay. And neither does your partner.

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