Mourning the Death of a Parent
A Shattering Experience
The death of a parent is the most common form of bereavement in the US. Almost 12 million Americans bury a parent every year, but society tends to believe that because it is expected that our parents will die, bereaved adult children need to “get over mourning a parent quickly and move on.”
A 45-year-old woman who lost both of her parents within nine months laments, “The death of my parents was a shattering experience. Suddenly there was no buffer between me and my mortality. I felt like I was nobody’s child—an abandoned orphan. It forced me to grow up suddenly as everyone began to see me as the new parent in the family.”
If the relationship with a parent was close, many bereaved adult children feel they have lost a friend and advisor. As they mourn a parent, they lament the absence of anyone who can relate to their childhood memories or share in their children’s awards, achievements or everyday lives.
The Next Steps
Old sibling rivalries and jealousies can reappear at the time of a parent’s death, especially when there is contention over the inheritance. When a parent dies, many adult children begin to explore the meaning of their lives and examine the direction their lives are taking. Some make significant changes in their lives.
If you have lost a parent, these suggestions may help:
- Acknowledge the importance of the loss and allow yourself to grieve completely. Feelings of anger, ambivalence, guilt and shame are normal.
- Don’t pressure yourself to “get back to normal.”
- Address any unfinished business with your deceased parent by writing a letter, talking with someone you trust, or seeking help from a professional who specializes in grief.
- Create new family patterns, rituals and ceremonies. Prepare in advance for special holidays and anniversaries.
- Join a bereavement support group to share your feelings with others.
- Each year, acknowledge the anniversary of the death of your parent. Create a memorial tribute by donating to a charity in your parent’s name, planting a tree, visiting the cemetery, making a memory book or whatever works for you.
- Take your friends and family up on their offers to help. Be specific about what you need.
- Learn to parent yourself. Surround yourself with people who love you.
Take comfort in knowing that the pain you feel as you’re mourning a parent should lessen with time.