The loss of a parent can be a profound, transformative event. A parent‘s presence often seems unwavering, from birth through childhood and into adulthood. The finality of death can be a shock and may bring up a complex range of emotions.
Dealing with grief and coming to terms with loss can be a traumatic experience. Even if a person has reached adulthood, they still may expect or need their parents with them throughout life. Or perhaps a person has had an estranged or difficult relationship with a parent, and their loss now makes reconciliation or closure seem impossible.
In the United Kingdom, one parent of a child or young adult dies every 20 minutes. Feelings of emptiness, loneliness, or deep sadness can occur with grief, even though it is an inevitable part of life. A person may feel they have lost their “rock,” support, or unconditional love.
However, there are ways to learn to handle the emotions that occur with grief. It is important to acknowledge the feelings that come, and a person should not be too hard on themselves for going through the process of grieving. There is no right way to grieve, and coming to terms with the loss has no time limit or deadline.
This article explains how to cope with the loss of a parent and the ways it may affect a person. It will also detail the stages of grief and where a person can find support.
When losing a parent, having coping strategies for grief may help throughout the process. Coping with loss can look different for different people.
Some may lean on others, such as family members or friends, while others may need time alone to care for themselves. There is no right way to grieve, and it is important to acknowledge the process and emotions
The loss of a parent can be especially devastating. Even if a person did not have the closest relationship with them, it is still the loss of a presence that has existed since birth. Even if there is an expectation of death, the loss and emptiness a person may feel is still palpable.
It is important to accept that a person
If a person had challenges in their relationship with the parent, this may also give rise to conflicting emotions. It may help to recognize that these emotions are okay and valid, and they are all part of the human experience. Some emotions may include:
- deep sadness
- numbness and emotional disbelief
- denial of the situation
- mental health issues such as depression or anxiety
Realize there is no right way to grieve
When a loved one dies, many people offer advice that centers around time being a healer, burying the grief, and the pain getting easier to bear over time. However, there is no deadline for grief, and some people may experience waves of emotions for a long period of time.
Everyone experiences life, emotions, and death differently. It is important to not place an extra burden on top of the burden of grief and to ensure a person experiences grief without expectations from others.
Even if it is an expected death, emotions such as shock and surprise may still occur. The idea of death brings up a lot of questions and emotions surrounding our identity, our time on earth, and our own mortality. This can further complicate grief, and it is important to know that this is entirely typical.
There is no right way to grieve, and coming to terms with loss has no time limit or deadline.
Take care of oneself
The loss of a parent may be a time when a person needs not only the support of others but also support from themselves. Setting time aside to check in with themselves can help acknowledge the many conflicting and upsetting emotions they may experience.
When dealing with grief, it may be hard to do usual daily tasks, such as taking a shower, taking care of the household, or attending to family or pets. A person may try and surround themselves with as much support as possible to take on these extra tasks. Remember that it is okay to stop and take time to address feelings.
Self-care after grief may include:
- making sure to prioritize sleep
- making sure to prioritize nutrition, perhaps treating oneself to favorite foods
- avoiding substances that may harm one’s mental state
- staying active and doing the things you enjoy the most
Do something in their memory and share memories with others
Some people may find that keeping the memory of their parents alive helps when dealing with grief. It means there is no forgetting them.
Instead, there is a celebration of the life they have lived. Holding memorials where friends and family can share their memories and times can be a beautiful way to ease grief.
Some ways to share memories may include:
- sharing stories with family and friends
- talking about family traditions
- looking at old photos together
Acknowledge memories that may not be as pleasant, and forgive
Some memories may be painful to acknowledge. For example, memories of abuse, neglect, or unhappy times may add to the already heavy burden of grief. It may help to openly talk about how such memories made a person feel with a counselor or therapist and to remember that this may help to move forward and heal.
Forgiveness is a concept that can help let go of resentment and anger. While some may regard the loss of a parent as the loss of a chance to address unresolved hurt, it actually gives a person the chance to be kind to themselves and let go of the burden.
Seek comfort in others
Although time alone to sit with thoughts without expectations from others is important, isolation can make grief feel even more overwhelming. Taking comfort in family and friends can ensure a person does not experience overwhelming emotions.
Some ways to seek comfort from others can include asking them to:
- run errands if a person does not feel up to it, such as child care or cooking
- do activities that may take the mind away from grief or strong emotions
- just listen to thoughts and feelings
Seek therapy or counseling if needed
When it comes to experiencing grief, therapy can help with:
- managing mental health issues as a result of the grief, such as depression or anxiety
- letting go of painful emotional burdens such as bitterness, anger, and resentment
- providing a safe space to talk about sad and painful memories or emotions
- understanding the complexity of emotions
- teaching coping strategies for difficult moments that may arise
- adapting to life without a parent or parents
It is important to accept that feelings will change, come back, and go away again. Grief is different for everyone, and accepting that a person may need extra support can help them on the path to healing.
Loss can affect people in many ways, and grief is a different experience for each individual. Some ways losing a parent can affect a person include:
- a wide range of conflicting emotions, such as numbness or devastation
- feelings of being lost, without any support
- feelings of the loss of unconditional love
- fear of how the future will look without them
- sadness or regret for things that have happened in the past
- a change in identity, going from being somebody’s child to being the older generation
- feeling guilty over experiencing relief, particularly if the parent was living with a health condition
There may also be physical changes when dealing with grief, such as:
Learn more about the physical symptoms of grief.
Grief can come in stages, although research says it usually resolves between
- Denial: The first stage of grief stems from the disbelief and shock of a loved one dying. It may be typical for some people to still feel their presence and not feel they have gone. Denial can help a person manage the overwhelming experience of loss. Once acceptance happens, the person can move on to a process of healing.
- Anger: Anger can manifest when it comes to loss for various reasons, such as a person feeling that what is happening to them is unfair.
- Bargaining: Bargaining stems from a lack of acceptance, and some people may find themselves making deals with themselves, internally, about what they would do or how they would act if their loved one still lived. If a person is religious, this may include bargaining with God.
- Depression: Depression can include feelings of emptiness, loneliness, deep sadness, and a loss of the things they once enjoyed. Life can feel like it holds less meaning without a loved one in it.
- Acceptance: The final stage of grief is not only the acceptance of the loss of a loved one but also that death is a natural part of life. A person can realize that their current reality is different from their old one, but that does not mean they cannot live life to the fullest while keeping the memory of their loved one.
Some models may have more than five stages, and for each person, some stages may last longer than others.
Learn more about the stages of grief.
The loss of a parent can be an overwhelming, emotional time. A person may find many avenues for support and help, including communities, places of worship, hospitals, and hospices. Online resources for grief support include:
Experiencing grief in connection to the death of a parent can be overwhelming. Grieving is a natural process, and there are ways to cope.
Grief looks different for everyone, and there is no right or wrong way to grieve. This can include acknowledging the complex emotions that occur, taking care of oneself, and not being afraid to lean on others for support.