Losing A Parent

May 20, 2021

Although most of us expect our parents to die before us, many adults are surprised by the complexity and depth of our grief when our mother or father dies.
For many of us, the death of a parent is a significant loss. It changes many aspects of our lives, and will have an impact on the whole family. Although feelings may be complicated, there is no ‘right’ way to grieve.  Everyone experiences bereavement differently; however, there are some common feelings that many people share.

Different feelings after a parent dies

  • As well as shock, grief or numbness, people often feel regret, guilt or anger. We may feel very differently from one moment to the next, and the feelings can often contradict each other. They may come upon us when least expected, which can be confusing and distressing.
  • We can feel lost after the death of a mother or father. Suddenly we may find ourselves feeling like a child again, even though we are adults with jobs, families and lives of our own.
  • Losing a parent may mean losing one of the people who thought we were the most special, and who loved us unconditionally. Alternatively, if we had a difficult or estranged relationship with a parent, we can feel a grief for what never was, or for a relationship it is not now possible to heal.
  • The death of a parent can bring home the inevitability of our own death, and perhaps make it seem nearer than it was before.
  • The balance of generations changes when a parent dies. Before we were still someone’s child, now we can find ourselves the older generation and that can be a shock.
  • Losing a parent, or both parents, means we may also have lost a connection to our own childhood. We have lost someone who could talk to us about our own early years, and share memories in a way no one else can.

Effect on other relationships

There is no single way for families to deal with their grief. A death in the family can bring people together, but it can also create tension. It can wake up old arguments and rivalry between brothers and sisters. Some families are able to support one another, but there may be also be individual members who don’t want to (or can’t) share their feelings and prefer to be left alone.
If one parent has died, our relationship with the parent who is still alive may change. We may have always thought of our parents together, as a partnership, and now find ourselves getting to know the remaining parent as a separate person.

How to support yourself after the death of a parent

  • Talk to someone

Talking can be really helpful, even if it is over the phone, internet or social media. Often family or friends can help. In addition to talking with your loved ones, you may also consider talking to a grief counselor. And talk to your primary care physician if your health is suffering.

  • Find ways to remember them

It can help to think of ways you can remember your parent, and keep them as part of your life. This might mean keeping a few special possessions or creating a memory box or special album of pictures.  Setting time for family and friends to come together and remember is also helpful.

  • Plan ahead on anniversaries 

Birthdays, anniversaries and Mothers and Fathers Day can be difficult after someone close to us dies. It can help to think in advance about how you are going to manage.

Reach out to 12 Oaks Counseling of Hyde Park for added support as you work through the grieving process.  There’s no need to walk this journey alone.