Loss of a Parent

Your mother or father has died. Whether you had a good, bad or indifferent relationship with the parent who died, your feelings for him or her were probably quite strong. At bottom, most of us love our parents deeply. And they love us with the most unconditional love that imperfect human beings can summons.

Realize Your Grief is Unique
Your grief is unique. No one grieves in exactly the same way. Your particular experience will be influenced by the type of relationship you had with your parent, the circumstances surrounding the death, your emotional support system and your cultural and religious background.

Expect to Feel a Multitude of Emotions
The parent-child bond is perhaps the most fundamental of all human ties. When your mother or father dies, that bond is torn. In response to this loss you may feel a multitude of strong emotions. Numbness, confusion, fear, guilt, relief and anger are just a few of the feelings you may have.

Recognize the Death's Impact on Your Entire Family
If you have brothers or sisters, the death of this parent will probably affect them differently than it is affecting you. The death may also stir up sibling conflicts. You may find, on the other hand, that the death of your parent brings you and your siblings closer together.

Finally, when there is a surviving parent, try to understand the death's impact on him or her. This does not mean that you are necessarily responsible for the living parent. But it does mean that you, a younger and often more resilient family member, should be patient and compassionate as you continue your relationship with the surviving parent.

Reach Out to Others for Support
Perhaps the most compassionate thing you can do for yourself at this difficult time is to reach out for help from others. Think of it this way: grieving the loss of a parent may be the hardest work you have ever done. And hard work is less burdensome when others lend a hand.

Be Tolerant of Your Physical and Emotional Limits
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you fatigued. Your ability to think clearly and make decisions may be impaired. And your low energy level may naturally slow you down. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Nurture yourself. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten your schedule as much as possible.

Embrace Your Spirituality
If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Find someone to talk with who won't be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore.

Allow Yourself to Search for Meaning
You may find yourself asking "Why did Mom have to die now?" or "What happens after death?" This search for the meaning of life and living is a normal response to the death of a parent. In fact, to heal in grief you must explore such important questions. It's OK if you don't find definitive answers, though. What's more important is that you allow yourself the opportunity to think (and feel) things through.

Treasure Your Memories
Though your parent is no longer physically with you, he or she lives on in spirit through your memories. Treasure those memories. Share them with your family and friends. Recognize that your memories may make you laugh or cry, but in either case, they are a lasting and important part of the relationship you had with your mother or father.

Move Toward Your Grief and Heal
To live and love wholly again, you must mourn. You will not heal unless you allow yourself to openly express your grief. Denying your grief will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. Embrace your grief and heal.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself. And never forget that the death of a parent changes your life forever.

Related Resources
The Journey Through Grief: Reflections on Healing (book)

~Adapted from an Article by by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.