When your parent dies, it is natural that you experience the loss. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. The natural order of your relationship. Your mum and dad go first.
But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Regardless of how you came to be theirs, by birth or adoption, they were the set of parents assigned to you. However your relationship played out, close or barely speaking, you belong to them.
When your mum or dad die, you feel it deeply. When they are truly gone, you realise you’re no longer that someone’s little girl or boy.
This can change the way you see yourself. It can alter the way you operate in your family of origin, and even shake up the way you spend your time now — especially if you’d been your parent’s caregiver for a while.
It’s true, your parent’s place in your life is irreplaceable. No one can claim or fill your connection to them. But you can learn to cope without that connection and move forward in a healthy way.
Here are some ways to help you cope with the loss of a parent:
1. Allow yourself to mourn. It will take some time to navigate your loss. Your parent has always been there. To accept that he or she is gone will be a journey, not a one-time event.
2. Expect a myriad of emotions. Sadness, relief, resentment, and regret may play out as the relationship with your parents, and the challenges therein, come to the forefront of your mind. A desire to surround yourself with friends and family may become important. Find expression for your emotions to heal well. Consider time with a counsellor.
3. Acknowledge the impact to your whole family. Parents of adult children are often connected to their family uniquely as parent, grandparent, and friend. To see your siblings suffer, or watch your kids grapple with the loss of a grandparent, is difficult. Be patient with your loved ones, while also honoring your own grief and changing emotions. Understand that your family is hurting too. Give everyone as much grace and compassion as possible.
4. Take good care of yourself. Grief can sometimes distract from your own needs. Take time to rest and eat well. Exercise. You’ll need the “feel-good” brain chemicals provided through self-care, and regular workouts will keep you moving forward.
5. Seek support. Grief always requires support, even more so when the wisdom and guidance of a parent is now unavailable. Reaching out may be difficult, but you may find that there are others who empathise, and want to share the work of saying goodbye, practically and emotionally. It’s okay to let someone help you through your loss.
6. Honor your parent’s memory. Whatever the status of your relationship was with your parent, look for meaning, reasons for gratitude, and a way to pay homage to the lessons your parent taught you, intentionally or by default. Invite loved ones to speak of your parent freely, and share good memories.
7. Embrace healing. Grief is a process meant to help you move forward, not hold you hostage to the past. Grieving well is the path to recovery. Give your grief time and healthy expression. Be patient with yourself. It will take time to navigate the feelings, memories, and thoughts connected to that relationship. Reconciling all of those elements is not easy or accomplished hastily. Then move forward, and live well, the life your parents’ gave you.
If you are in need of more help, following the loss of a parent, counselling sessions with a bereavement-trained therapist can help you work through your unique grief process. Neil Ward offers bereavement counselling in Glasgow as well as by Skype.
Find out more about bereavement counselling or call 07970 860 711 to book an appointment.