‘Losing a parent is like losing a part of oneself” – Debra Umberson
Looking around at many of my friends, I am struck by how many have lost a parent. Many have not been through old age but through illness both sudden and prolonged.
Being in your adult years when your parent dies, you still respond to their death as the child regardless of your age or theirs. Parents for the majority of people are the one stable point in our lives, the constant, and the reason we are here.
Parents never get old right!, they are immortal they will live forever because we need them in our lives to be there as we grow, get married, have children, and be there when we need that piece of advice only our parents can give. Whatever our relationship with them good or bad, indifferent or complicated this relationship is unique and when a parent dies, something special and irreplaceable dies too. The response as the adult child can be far more intense and prolonged. Even though you know the natural order of things that your parents will die first it doesn’t mean that buried within the subconscious is the thought they will always be around. This maybe can explain the pain, confusion, anger and feeling of abandonment.
Asking those around me for their thoughts and feelings over losing a parent it is like they all belong to a club they didn’t ask to join. They talk about losing the person they went to for advice, one of their best friends, unconditional love and missing the milestones of their children.
Lots of people wrote to me with their personal stories and here are some of theirs
‘He was the one person I went to for advice, there are often times that I see something and think, “Oh, must tell dad about that” followed by the realisation that he is gone’.
‘It is like losing a close friend, someone who cares about you and is interested in your good news and troubles’
‘I wish she would have been there to go through my pregnancy, birth and raising of my children, she would have made a doting nanny. She was my amazingly beautiful and funny mother and my best friend’
‘Following my father’s death, my mother and I became very close. We had holidays, lunches and theatre dates. She died suddenly without us and although I would not wish mum to be here to endure the pain and indignity her failing body inflicted, I miss the funny, loving, selfless soulmate she was every single day’.
‘My relationship with my mum changed as I grew up – once I got to my 20s and older we became best friends. We rode horses, trained my dogs, walked, swam and had holidays together. When she died I was in my 40s. It was an awful shock and I still miss her terribly. I not only lost my mum, I lost one of my best friends too’.
‘So many times I want to pick up the phone to tell Mum the silly thing the boys did today etc. It’s also makes me so sad to know she has missed their milestones. Apart from the sadness which can come on at the drop of a hat there is something else. There is an overwhelming sense of responsibility and needing to be there for my Dad. It’s hard to explain the shift in our relationship since Mum died. Dad is no more vulnerable just because Mum died’
‘I miss talking to him about the good stuff and bad. I miss asking his advice then ignoring it I miss sharing pictures and stories with him. Yes it’s changed how I parent my boys, I try and live everyday like it’s my last and encourage them all to be as independent as possible’
‘So losing a parent, it was only 3 1/2 years ago and in my whole life it’s the most difficult thing I have ever had to go through. Losing dad came as a massive shock when all was ok with him; in fact he’d looked after my girls the day before, as I returned to work for a day to keep up with things. Suddenly the following morning I got the phone call from my mum saying he’d been rushed into hospital having collapsed overnight. I felt guilty that I’d not noticed him becoming ill and done something to help him sooner. I then felt angry that he’d gone and left me and my girls. I felt sadness as he wasn’t going to see my girls grow up’
In addition to the feelings of anger and guilt, many people expressed that they felt vulnerable, lonely, and empty, frustrated and like an orphan.
Here are a few suggestions to try and help when a parent has died:
- Remember everyone grieves in their own way, don’t let anyone rush you through the process of grieving or belittle your loss. Unresolved grief can affect life decisions and attitudes so take your time.
- Like all grief it can be exhausting both emotionally and physically, be kind to yourself.
- Grief doesn’t get any smaller, your life around it gets bigger and you learn to cope better in your day to day. It does not end it will just ebb and flow.
- You may experience those feelings of abandonment even as an adult, if you need help to come to terms with your thoughts, a counsellor could help you work through this.
- Personal effects – Having an object to keep as a physical reminder of your parent is helpful. A possession, which may mean nothing at all to someone else, can be a treasure for you to cherish and to think about memories; and it is a reminder of your parent’s life.
- There are some strategies that can help when you need to open up to your grief, this could be for a few minutes or an hour. Create a place in your home you can go to, to have this time. You could try writing things down, drawing or meditation. Allowing yourself this time can help with feeling so overwhelmed.
- I have had clients come to me who have had unresolved issues with their parent after their death, which has affected them throughout their life. The relationship doesn’t end after the death, it continues to change. It may be that it was hard to face issues when the parent was alive. These issues can be resolved through the counselling process.