Coping With the Loss of a Parent
by Sarah Jennings
Intellectually, we know that it’ll happen to everyone, but it still comes as a shock when someone dies. This can be particularly true in the case of a parent passing away.
Mothers and fathers have always been always old, of course, but they’re not supposed to become sick or weak and, most of all, they’re not supposed to die. They’re supposed to always be there to help show you how life works—which career path you should take, which principles and values you should live by, which shoes you should wear with which dress.
I don’t mean to make light of this: when your parent dies, it hits hard and in ways that you may not expect. You may feel cast adrift, directionless. You may wonder how you can go on without Mom or Dad in your life. You may wonder how life can ever feel the same.
The answer to that last question is brutally simple: it won’t.
When you lose someone you love (especially a parent), I don’t think that things ever feel entirely the same afterwards. You don’t just “get over it.” The feeling of that loss just becomes a part of you. However, this doesn’t mean that your life won’t be happy or fulfilling anymore. The mourning process can take you down many unexpected paths. Here are a few good things to remember if or when you find yourself going down one of them.
Be Honest With Yourself
Most people are probably somewhat familiar with the various stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, etc.). You should bear in mind, however, that they don’t occur in some fixed, inevitable order. They can occur differently depending on the person. Don’t aggravate your grief with guilt over not feeling the “right” way.
Thinking about that, mourning can also stir up feelings in you that, for whatever reason, you don’t feel comfortable acknowledging. Hard as it may be, you must find a way to accept your grief and what comes with it. You can’t really control what you’ll feel or when you’ll feel it, so don’t try. Don’t ignore, deny or hide what’s happening to you; your grief could eat you alive from the inside if you do.
Give Yourself Time to Mourn
Not only do you need to acknowledge what you’re feeling, you need to give yourself time to feel it. This can prove hard if you have kids of your own and a career to worry about. After all, losing a parent doesn’t mean that you don’t need to get your son or daughter to school, that you don’t need to pay your bills or that you don’t need to meet your deadlines.
You may feel tempted or encouraged to put your grief aside and get on with your day-to-day affairs, and at times, you may need to do just that. Indeed, for a while, some of you may find in those day-to-day affairs a welcome distraction from your grief.
Eventually, however, it’s important to make time to work through your mourning. If you have it, take some vacation time. Or, if you can’t take time off, maybe you can take an hour or so at the end of the day to think about whom you lost and what he or she means to you.
Share Your Feelings
Hard as you may find it to believe when you’re mourning, you’re not alone. Death isn’t new, and chances are very good that someone out there has felt or does feel something similar to what you’re feeling. When you’re ready to do so, then, reach out. Talk to your other family members or your close friends. Find a support group, either in person or online. Sharing your feelings and experiences with others can help you come to terms with your loss. It can also help strengthen your bonds with those who are still living.
Commemorate Your Parent’s Death and Life
You can go to a place that has a particular meaning for your parent or your family. You can build a small shrine to your parent and her or his life. You can have a celebration on their birthday. You can write a book or a song or paint a picture. However you do it, it’s important to memorialize your parent’s passing and life. It can help you come to terms with your mother or father: what they did with their time on this earth, how those choices and actions helped shape you and how you feel about them. In other words, it can give you the chance to better understand not only your parent but yourself.
Mourning a parent is by no means quick and easy. In fact, it could cause you to question the very foundations of your own life. However, if you allow yourself to mourn and take stock, you may emerge from it with a fuller appreciation for your parent’s life and for your own.
Sarah Jennings writes for Brookdale Assisted Living. See Brookdale.com for senior-living info in 47 states.
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