The passing of a parent is never easy, whether expected or not.
As children, our parents seem invincible; people who will always be there to help and guide us, and as both you and your parents age, these roles often continue. Sadly, however, this is not always the case as we sometimes watch our mother or father’s mental health deteriorate and the roles are reversed.
It makes no difference how well, mentally or physically, our parents are, or how prepared we think we are, losing them leaves a huge gap in our life. The parent-child bond is the most fundamental of all human ties and when your mother or father dies, that bond is broken and you will feel many strong emotions, some of which may include numbness, confusion, fear, guilt, relief and anger. Sometimes these emotions will follow each other within a short period of time or they may even occur simultaneously.
Know Your Grief is Unique
Realize that your grief is unique. Each person comes into a relationship in a different way to anyone else. Even siblings will have different relationships with their parents and therefore may grieve in very different ways. Many other things will play a part such as life experience and circumstances as well as other family relationships. As a result, you will grieve in your own way and in your own time. Don't try to compare your experience with that of other people, take it one day at a time and grieve in the way that is right for you and accept that others have the same rights.
Often death is a time of conflict. With so many emotions near the surface, it doesn’t take much for problems to arise. You and your brothers and sisters may disagree about the funeral, or argue about family finances. Understand why this happens and realise that while it can be unpleasant, it is also fairly normal. Try to encourage open communication and be ready to listen to other points of view. Conversely, sometimes the death of a parent can bring siblings closer together.
Understanding Your Emotions
While not everyone will have the same feelings, some of the more common emotions can include -
Sadness - you may be surprised just how deeply you feel the loss of a parent. Most people expect to feel sad, but it is often a much deeper feeling than you would imagine, especially if it is the death of your second parent when feelings of a passing era are raised as well as those of being an ‘adult-orphan’. You may also feel sad that your children no longer have their grandparents around. Allow yourself to feel the sadness and to share it with those close to you.
Anger – this emotion is particularly likely to surface if there have been unresolved difficulties with your parents. You could also feel anger that your time together is no longer. Try to understand the emotion behind the grief and forgive both your parents and yourself. Talking to a councillor or other professional can help.
Guilt – this is a very common response. You may wish you had spent more time with your loved one, said more than you did or taken back words said in anger. Sometimes the guilt will be even more pronounced if there was a dysfunctional element to your family. Time will help as you work through these feelings and allow them to heal.
Relief – this is often mixed with guilt, especially if your mother or father has been unwell before they died. This does not mean you didn’t love them ‘enough’, it just means you are pleased they are no longer suffering, whether physically or emotionally.
All these emotions are perfectly normal. Let yourself feel them and don’t try to ignore them. This is a very emotional period and healing will take time.
Treasure Your Memories
Although your mother or father is no longer with you, treasure the memories. Share them with your family. Some of these memories will make you cry, while others will make you laugh, but all will help you keep those memories alive and remember the person who was an integral part of your life.
Sometimes a physical remembrance of your loved one, such as planting a tree in their memory or making a photo album to commemorate the special times you had together, can help bring solace.
Acknowledge Your Loss
You will not heal if you do not acknowledge and express your grief. How you do this is as individual as each person. Denying or deflecting your grief will only make it harder to accept your loss.
Remember also that if there is a surviving parent, their loss will be a different experience to your own. It doesn’t mean you need to take over their lives and organise everything, but rather that you give them the space to grieve and move forward in their own time while making sure they realise you are there to support and help them, if and when they need it.
Moving past your grief will not happen quickly; it is a process - often a long, slow one - so be patient and be kind to yourself as you adjust to a life without your parent(s) in it.