Adult Children and the Loss of Elderly Parents

opentohope articles

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

More Articles Written by Heidi

Dr. Heidi Horsley is an international grief expert, licensed psychologist, and social worker. She is the Executive Director and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation, one of the largest internet grief resources, with over 2 million yearly visitors. She hosts the award-winning Open to Hope cable television show and podcast. Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University. She serves on the ​National Board of Directors for The Compassionate Friends, the largest peer to peer support organization in the world. She also serves on the National Advisory Board for the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS). TAPS has served over 50,000 military families who have suffered a loss. In addition, she serves on the National Advisory Board for the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Foundation, and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation. Dr. Heidi is on the VIP section of Marquis Who's Who in America, Madison Who's Who, and Who's Who of American Women. Dr. Heidi has co-authored eight books, including; Spouse Loss; Fresh Grief; Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss; Inspirational Stories of Healing After Loss; Real Men Do Cry; A Quarterbacks Inspiring Story of Tackling Depression & Surviving Suicide; Teen Grief Relief: Parenting with Understanding Support and Guidance; and Signs and Hope From Heaven. She has appeared on the ABC television show 20/20, has been interviewed by numerous media outlets, and has been a guest on hundreds of radio shows as well as quoted in dozens of media publications, including the Metro World News, Washington Post, Time Magazine, Newsday, Money Magazine, and New York Daily News. Dr. Heidi is also the author of numerous articles and academic book chapters. Dr. Heidi gives keynotes, presentations, and workshops throughout the country, and teaches continuing education workshops for health care professionals on support following trauma and tragedy. For 10 yrs., Dr. Heidi worked as a co-investigator for the FDNY-Columbia University Family Guidance Program; a study which looked at traumatic loss in families of firefighters killed in the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Through this 9/11 study, Dr. Heidi provided ongoing intervention and follow-up to firefighter widows and their children, and facilitated groups for bereaved siblings. In addition, Dr. Heidi supervised the school social work staff at Harlem Democracy Charter Schools in NYC for four years. Dr. Heidi's early career included work in a variety of clinical settings, including; Manhattan Psychiatric Center, California Pacific Medical Center Psychiatry Dept., University of San Francisco Mental Health Clinic, St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital Psychiatry Dept., and Hope Haven Residential Treatment Center in New Orleans. Her doctoral dissertation was on the sudden death of a sibling. Her academic credentials include a doctorate in Psychology (PsyD) from the University of San Francisco; a Masters degree in social work (LMSW) from Columbia University, and a Masters degree in mental health counseling (MS) from Loyola University, in New Orleans. Dr. Heidi splits her time between NYC and Tucson AZ.


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  • Audrey Grammas says:

    My cousin has just lost her father. He was 93. She lives in another city. She is feeling a great loss of her father (obviously) but her mother, similar age, has turned her back on her.

    She has expressed to me that she feels that she has lost both of her parents. She has also expressed that she is now experiencing some physical effects. More specifically (constipation).

    Have you ever heard of something like this happening? I am not sure what to do to help.
    Any advise?

  • Heleena says:

    I live in the UK and my mother was in Australia and suffered a series of events the caused her to have to be transferred into a nursing home. I last saw my Mum in 2016. My two siblings had to deal with the changes whilst I stayed here. I couldn’t travel to see Mum because I had a collapsed right hip and could hardly walk. On the day I had surgery Mum went to a Nursing home. I then promised her I would visit this November and I booked the flights. Sadly she died in July before I could go. Now my brother who arranged the funeral has become dismissive and domineering and quite disregarding of my own grief process. He thinks that as I am distant that I don’t care. I did travel 13,000 miles for her funeral only to find that my sibling had left me out of the whole process and I had to assert my right and care to actually read a poem that I had written.
    Now he wont have me stay in November and tells me I am selfish–very distressing for me. When Mum was in hospital I rang her most days sent her parcels and flowers by the internet and generally sort to care about my siblings and my Mum too.

  • Jackie says:

    A very good and close friend of mine lost his dad who had been ill sometime ago and had even undergone an operation. This guy already had a nonchalant attitude about most things and took life as it came. Instead of feeling sad or angry when he should, he’d just say “It’s life.”
    When he told me the news I felt helpless and was thrown off balance. He’s usually very free spirited but now I know he’s hurting but because of how he always pretends like everything’s fine, I don’t know what to do. He doesn’t even want to talk about the subject and we are far apart. I feel very helpless right now but if there’s one thing I know, it’s that he hates pity.
    Please what do I do? I want him to acknowledge and accept what’s going on. I believe it’s the first step to letting go, just like he wants to do.

  • Gail Antijunti says:

    I am just broken-earted especially around Christmas time….mom just loved Christmas…..made teddy bears and toy animals….sewed clothing for the family…..had an art gallery…painted…etc.
    She was 86 when she passed away……she did not make the next Christmas as she passed away in September…..I do not care if she was 100 years old…..I will always think of her as a young vibrant mother….doing all of her crafts and simply loving her family……I still and always will love you mom….June