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.

Dr. Harry Barry is author of Emotional Healing (Pegasus). Purchase it on Amazon. Dr. Barry can be reached through his website,

Harry Barry

Harry is an experienced medical doctor who, following a period of running a hospital in the Third World, has worked as a senior GP within the Irish Health System for over thirty-five years. He has a long-standing interest around mental health especially, the management of anxiety, depression, toxic stress and prevention of suicide He has developed a holistic approach with an emphasis on the combination of combining Neuroscience concepts, lifestyle changes and where necessary drug therapy, with the application of simple CBT approaches to effectively manage these conditions. He is a Member of the Royal College of GPs in London; a Member of the Irish College of GPs and holds a Masters in CBT. He is passionate about emotional resilience and how developing skills in this area could transform our mental health all domains of life, including the workplace. In relation to the workplace, he is passionate about the importance of self-care, combining lifestyle changes and emotional resilience skills to improve our mental wellbeing and reduce incidence of mental health difficulties. He has spoken in well-known companies such as Google in Dublin and Which HQ in London. He retired from full time general practice in 2013 to focus solely on mental health. He now works on a consultancy basis combining clinics, writing, media and public information lectures and webinars as well as assisting fellow GPs, nurses (including occupational health nurses), guidance counsellors, parents, teachers, sports clubs and therapists with lectures and workshops. He is the author of 10 books about mental health. His books Anxiety and Panic and Emotional Resilience and Self-Acceptance reached number one on the Irish nonfiction best seller list. Anxiety and Panic laid out a revolutionary new approach to banishing panic attacks, phobias, social anxiety and general anxiety from your life. Emotional Resilience laid out 20 key skills that can revolutionize your mental health. Self-Acceptance which was launched in 2019 Self-Acceptance was reviewed by Bruce Daisley former Vice President Twitter Europe – ‘This is the most remarkable book you will read this year. Surprising, stimulating and guaranteed to change your behaviour. I found myself riveted by its compelling evidence’. It was also reviewed by Professor Catherine Harmer, Professor Cognitive Neuroscience Oxford who called it – ‘----This book is a joy to read - a real page turner----'. His last book Emotional Healing, which was launched in London and Dublin and recently by Pegaus in New York, deals with the world of emotional distress and how to manage it, including an in depth discussion on grief. Emotional Healing was described by Bruce Daisley, former VP Twitter Europe as "An intensely powerful book filled with clear tools to help us survive and cope with some of the most profound moments in our lives. Moving and thoughtful". His latest book Embracing Change was launched in May 2021. It deals with the mental health challenges presented by stressful periods of transitional change in our lives, from becoming a new parent, to a cancer diagnosis to the menopause to retirement and so on. He is a regular contributor to national press and national and local media (both TV and radio) on the subject of mental health and is a monthly contributor to the Sean O’ Rourke and now the Claire Byrne Today show for past seven years. He has also been a contributor over the years, to TV shows such Claire Byrne Live, Prime Time, Ray Darcy Show, Morning AM, The Tonight Show and the ‘Late Late Show’. He served on the national board of the Depression Charity Aware for over ten years. He is a member of the Advisory Board of the College of Psychiatry of Ireland. He has also been a member of an international group of experts (which includes for example Professor Catherine Harmer, Professor Cognitive Neuroscience Oxford), exploring how best to measure cognition in depression and who published a journal article on the subject in 2019. His website is

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