Grieving the death of a Parent in Adult Life
Adults are often surprised at the emotions which can threaten to overwhelm
them following the death of a parent. After all, they reason, it is in
the natural order of things that children will one day bury their parents.
Why then the pain, the sense of confusion, the feeling of having been
abandoned? This may well be because, buried in our subconscious, is the
belief that our parents are immortal.
The death of a parent can create feelings of vulnerability.
When a parent dies, there are often other feelings of loss. There may
be the loss of a home, the sense of loss of our link with the past, even
the loss of the expectation that someday our relationship might have changed.
Also, there may be strong feelings of longing - a need to have a parent
around forever to share our future accomplishments and offer
support in our times of need. There maybe regrets - of things said or
not said e.g. if only I had said I love you.
The relationship which existed before the death can affect
how we grieve and can result in mixed feelings. Because each of us is
unique, we have a different relationship with each parent and with our
siblings. This can cause problems when trying to deal with feelings that
emerge for us. As we look back at our childhood, teenage years and adulthood,
we may discover that there are unresolved issues which were never addressed.
"What do I need to do?"
In order to let your parent go, you need to deal with any
feelings that may arise, apportion blame (if necessary), and forgive your
parent and yourself. It is important for your well-being that you talk
about how you feel with someone you trust. You are not being disloyal
or detracting from your parent if you talk about hurts that may surface
for you, nor will this diminish any relationship you had with that parent.
If there has been role reversal - where you have acted as the
carer of a parent - you may now experience feelings of relief and release.
These feelings in turn, may cause anxiety, anger and guilt. You may try
to stifle these feelings by attempting to continue the role of caretaker
for the rest of the family. By clinging to this carer role, you may prevent
yourself from dealing with your grief.
Grief feelings need to be acknowledged and accepted
and, if at all possible, shared with someone you trust.
If there is a surviving parent, the feelings of responsibility
for, and often the real needs of that parent, may prevent you from dealing
with your own grief. When the second parent dies, the sense of loss and
feelings of abandonment may be particularly strong and you may become
even more aware of your own mortality. Sometimes the death of parents
may cause the family to lose its focal point, siblings drift apart and
no longer keep in touch. This may be experienced as another loss to be
If there are grandchildren, they should be allowed to express
their grief. The sharing of grief with grandchildren can help each of
you to talk about the feelings that the death has brought to the surface.
Although grief work is difficult and painful, by working through your
grief and all the feelings that come up, it is possible to achieve a sense
of peace and to retain significant memories of your parent.
The Bereavement Counselling Service is there to listen and
provide support as you struggle with your grief.
In our modern world just surviving can be hard work. It
is doubly hard to pull yourself out of an emotional trough but it is not
impossible. Each time you cope with a crisis and make a major decision
you will feel good about yourself. When you reach a goal you will gain
satisfaction and self-assurance through your own competence. With time
and effort you will recover to lead a full and rewarding life once again.