It is important to recognize that each one us loses a “different” parent. This explains the variety of grief reactions in a family. Thus, it’s difficult to give universal advice for those who have lost a parent.
Each child and adult will have a different relationship with their mother and father. This relationship, in turn, will depend on the individual personality of both parents and child, their place in the family, whether they are closer to one or other parent, and especially what memories have been built up about that parent.
Love and Closeness are Not the Same
It is a sad reality that just because we love our parents or vice versa, it does not inevitably follow that we will like or be close to them as we become adults.
The importance of this insight cannot be overestimated when it comes to losing a parent. Some may find themselves completely distraught and struggling to cope with both the emotional fallout.
For others, there may be some emotional distress, but of a lesser nature as the relationship may not have been as close. I have even encountered situations where an adult offspring seeks assistance as they feel guilty at not feeling emotionally distressed at their passing.
No Universal Advice for Those Who Have Lost a Parent
There are therefore no hard and fast rules as to how best to emotionally grieve the loss of a parent. There are too many variables. Apart from coping with the emotional aspects of losing your parent, there can be some significant adaptations that you may have to make, to cope with the changes that their loss might introduce into your life.
The following insights, observations and suggestions may assist you in coping with the loss of a parent.
Insights and Advice
1. There is no time limit on how long you will grieve for them.
2. It is normal to break down, cry or feel sad every time there is a festive holiday or birthday, even years later.
3. There can often be a rush to clear out special belongings that belonged to the parent who has dies. Keep them until you feel the time has come to move them onwards.
Don’t Compare Your Grief
4. Never fall into the trap of comparing your reaction to the loss of a parent to that of other siblings. This can lead you into dark places. Do not fall into the trap of being hurt, angry or frustrated if your siblings or other relatives do not seem to be showing signs of being as sad or distressed as you. Remember that each one of us is unique, as are our individual relationships or bonds with the parent who has died.
5. There is a different feel to the loss of the first parent as opposed to the second. For some, the former may be your first real experience with the reality of grief and the powerful emotions that can accompany it. When the second parent dies, there can be a strange sense of dislocation as it dawns on you that you are next in line. This may lead you on some occasions to challenge the meaning of your own life. This uncertainty can add to the different emotions and difficulties that their death brings into your world.
You May Have Feelings of Guilt
6. One of the commonest negative emotions which can plague you following parental loss is that of guilt. This can be present for a variety of reasons. This may relate to issues such as not visiting them sufficiently, having differences which were unresolved prior to the death, not spotting the warning signs of some illness or condition and so on.
7. You may experience other unhealthy emotions such as depression (if you come to believe, for example, that you are ‘abnormal’ as you are not ‘over’ your sadness); or anger at other siblings or medical or nursing professionals if you believe that they did not do enough for your loved one.
8. If you find yourself becoming distressed that you are not grieving as much as other siblings, it is important to emphasize that this may be absolutely normal for you. The reality, as we have discussed, is that you will only grieve as a human being in proportion to the intensity and closeness of the relationship that you have had with the person in question. Just because that person happens to be a parent does not change this reality.
Watch for Sibling Disputes
9. One frequently overlooked change that you may experience is where one parent dies and the other is now increasingly dependent on you and other siblings either for practical or emotional support. This can become an increasing issue if there are some chronic physical or cognitive conditions present in the surviving parent.
10. Another sad but unfortunately increasingly common situation that I have encountered over the decades is where a parent dies and there are inter-sibling feuds over houses, land, money or wills. You may be grieving badly over the loss of your parent, but find yourself caught up in this quagmire at the same time.
Last Advice for Those Who Have Lost a Parent
11. There can also be a maze of legal, financial and other tasks to be carried out. This too can be quite a daunting and, in some cases, distressing task to carry out. Once again, seek out professional and family advice and support.
12. Another often overlooked but important change often occurs when the second parent dies. Most families or groups of siblings find that the presence of the final parent, perhaps living in the house where all of them were reared, keeps the family unit intact, even if siblings are scattered. There is a common denominator keeping them all together. When the final parent dies, especially if it is the mother, this can lead to a splintering of this family unit, with all going their separate ways and only meeting up occasionally.