One of the most emotionally devastating and universal human situations is losing a parent, someone whose presence in your life may have never wavered. And, while we may recognise that the death of a parent is unavoidable in the abstract sense, the finality of death can feel unreal.
You completed your education and became adulthood, but you still required (and expected) your parents for many years to come. The loss of their direction, love, and support can leave a huge void and anguish that seems difficult to heal. Even if their death was foreseen, the loss of a mother or father is nevertheless devastating. Losing a parent is heartbreaking and painful, and it has a long-term biological and psychological impact on children of all ages. You’d be on a roller coaster of contradictory feelings even if you and your parent were estranged or had a tumultuous relationship.
However, the rest of the world may expect you to recover quickly from your grief — after the required three days of bereavement leave, perhaps supplemented with a few extra days of personal time — and get back to work. This could put you in an even worse state because there is no one-size-fits-all approach to grieving the death of a parent, but these strategies can help you get started as you begin to accept your loss.
Know that what you feel is valid
After the death of a parent, sadness is frequent, but other emotions are common as well. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t feel sad. Maybe you’re just pleased that they’re no longer in pain. Grief unleashes a barrage of complex, often contradictory feelings. Your connection with your parents may have been difficult at times, but it was still a vital part of your identity.
They were your first anchor in the world, whether they conceived you or adopted and raised you. It’s only natural to struggle or have difficulty coming to grips with your grief after such a huge loss.
You might feel angry or frustrated, feel guilty for not communicating with them frequently or for not being present when they died, shocked, and emotionally numb.
Confusion, disbelief, hopelessness, physical pain, and mental health issues, including sadness or even thoughts of suicide are possibly part of the numerous emotions you could experience depending on the circumstances.
If your parent had been suffering from a serious or deadly illness previous to their death, you might be relieved that they’re no longer in pain.
Let yourself grieve
Allowing oneself to feel the feelings is the only way to recover. Pushing them away can result in unfinished sadness. This is when you get trapped. Numbness or rage is difficult to overcome. People react to loss in different ways, but it’s crucial to let yourself feel all of your feelings.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to grieving, no specific period of time after which you can expect to feel better, and no checklist of phases or actions to follow. This can be difficult to accept on its own. It may appear like denying your feelings will help you heal faster. Others may send you the message that you should bury your sadness and move on before coming to grips with your loss.
Take care of yourself
It’s easy to get caught up in the sadness. Making your own health a priority, on the other hand, might help you cope with the sadness and stress. Get enough sleep, eat healthy, stay hydrated, and exercise on a regular basis. Do activities that make you happy as well.
Some people find solace in the diversion of work, but if at all possible, avoid returning before you are ready. To escape ascending the ever-present wall of painful feelings, people often immerse themselves in work, taking on more than they can comfortably handle.
The key is to strike a balance. Some distractions can be beneficial if you remember to address your feelings.
Sharing stories and talking about what your parent meant to you with family and other loved ones can help keep their memory alive. If you have children, you may tell them stories about their grandparents or continue family traditions that were significant to you when you were a youngster.
Reminiscing may be hard at first, but as the stories flow, you may discover that your grief begins to fade. If you are unable to openly discuss your parent at this time, collecting images of important occasions or writing them a letter expressing your grief about their death can be helpful.
Of course, not everyone has fond recollections of their parents. Persons also tend to keep unfavourable recollections of people who have died to themselves. If they abused, neglected, or damaged you in any manner, you might wonder if it’s worth bringing up the past.
If you’ve never talked about or processed what happened, it may be much more difficult to grieve and move on after their passing. Opening out to a therapist or someone you trust can help you feel less overwhelmed.
Let others comfort you
Friends and family members may not know what to say if they haven’t experienced a similar loss, but their presence might make you feel less alone.
It’s understandable that you need time to grieve privately, but completely isolating yourself won’t help. The companionship and support of those closest to you can help protect you from being overwhelmed by your loss. Friends may assist with food, kid care, and errands in addition to being a supporting presence. Just make sure they know what you need.
You can also join a grief support group to meet a different kind of social need by connecting you with people who have suffered similar losses. When others in your life who haven’t experienced loss try to console you or offer concern, it’s natural to feel irritated or frustrated. They simply don’t understand what you’re going through, no matter how polite or well-intentioned their remarks are. A support group can provide you with a common understanding as well as validation for emotions you are unable to articulate to others.
Your grieving may leave you feeling disoriented, numb, furious, or astonished when you learn that an estranged parent has died. You can even feel cheated of the opportunity to address past trauma or unresolved hurt.
Life does not always provide us with the answers or solutions we seek. Sometimes, no matter how incomplete or terrible the findings are, you just have to accept them. Although some things are very tough to forgive, carrying bitterness simply serves to harm you because there is no one there to receive it.
A letter can help you say what you’ve been meaning to say and take the initial steps toward processing the painful and complex sentiments left after they’ve died. Working with a therapist might also assist you in beginning to heal from prior trauma.
Consider getting professional help
There’s no shame in asking for help while you cope with the death of a parent. As you begin to work through the complicated emotions that often accompany grieving, a mental health expert, such as a therapist or psychologist, can provide validation and guidance. Grief counsellors can also give you coping skills to help you adjust to life without your parent. One can be seen at any time. However, if your sadness does not improve with time or if it interferes with your everyday life, you should get help. You can’t keep up with your career or your family, for example. A mental health expert can help you cope with your loss.
The bottom line
No matter what kind of connection you had with your parents, grief following their passing can empty you and leave you reeling.
Remember that grieving is a natural, healthy process that takes different forms for different people. Treat yourself with care and compassion, and remember to be patient while you move through your grief.
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