Registered drama therapist and licensed counselor Deborah Antinori discusses the loss of elderly parents with Dr. Heidi Horsley. As adult children, losses can be minimized and disenfranchised. Loved ones don’t offer the same level of support or seem to worry as much about adult children compared to teens and young children—however, our parents are our parents no matter our age. Common responses are, “Well, the parent has lived a good, long life,” but that doesn’t make it any easier for the adult children. The last dance is one that can be traumatizing, even when the death is expected.

You’re connected to your parents from birth. There’s a sense that someone is protecting you. Losing a parent can be especially tough for those who had abusive parents. Adult children may feel ambivalence. There are also issues with dementia and Alzheimer’s that can come before a loss. There’s no such thing as an easy loss of an elderly parent. Preparing yourself by being proactive is key.

Getting Ready for Loss

Go to a gerontology specialist (with your parents if they’re open to it). However, there’s no full way to prepare. Little things keep popping up, from a parent’s birthday to shopping at a certain store where you spent a lot of time with your parent. The silver lining is that, when a parent dies of age, adult children do have some timeframe to prepare for the loss. It’s not “sudden,” even if the death itself is sudden.

It’s also common to respond differently than you think you would. For example, some adult children have the loss hit them hard, while others go numb. Seeking out a support network can help usher you through this difficult time, from professional help to family members.


Heidi Horsley

Dr. Heidi Horsley is a licensed psychologist, social worker, and bereaved sibling. She co-hosts the award-winning weekly cable television show and podcast, Open to Hope. Dr. Heidi is an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University, and an award-winning author, who has co-authored eight books, and serves on the United Nations Global Mental Health Task Force. She also serves on the Advisory Boards for the Tragedy Assistance Program, the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and Peace of Mind Afghanistan. She served on the National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, and for 10 yrs. worked on a Columbia University research study looking at traumatic loss over time in families who lost a firefighter in the World Trade Center.

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