Losing a parent is a traumatic event – whatever your age at the time of their passing. Sorrow, grief, pain, anger, despair, confusion denial, guilt, are just some of the feelings you may experience… they are all entirely normal. It’s fair to say that few people will have as big an impact on our life as those who are responsible for creating it.
The type of grief you experience when you lose a perent will depend on a number of factors: their age; your age; their health prior to their death (were they fit and healthy and the death sudden and unexpected, or were they aflicted by chronic illness and long term physical suffering); Some people will experience relief when a long suffering parent dies, because they no longer have to suffer. This then leads to feelings of guilt. Your loss will also be influenced by the nature of your relationship to them – were you close, or was it strained? The loss you feel can be intensified by feelings of unresolved conflict; the realisation that you will never get the chance to resolve the issues face-to-face.
Guilt is often a big part of grief. You may feel you didn’t do enough for your parent prior to their death. Maybe you work long hours, or live far away. Geography and circumstance often keep us from being the dutyful son or daughter we would otherwise be. You may feel that their passing is somehow your fault. This is one of many normal responsible. Lots of people feel this way initially.
It’s also entirely normally to feel numb. That what has happened is a bad dream from which you will soon awaken. There is nothing wrong with feeling this way. This is all a normal part of the grieving process. You are in shock. It will take time for the loss to properly register.
Anger is normal too. You may feel resentment / blame towards the professionals who could not save your parent. You might argue with siblings over what was or wasn’t done. If you are religious, you may blame, or question, God. You may even feel anger toward your parent for dying, and leaving you. You may go over and over events in your head. You may become obsessive about details. You may talk to your dead perent, or hear them talking to you. Again, all entirely normal and just some of the many varied reactions people have to the loss of a parent. These are all just ways of your brain tryng to process a profoundly traumatic loss.
At a later stage the intensity of these feelings will soften and you will be able to see things more objectively. The sadness will remain, but there will be less blame and anger. At this stage you are quite likey to suffer from depression. In losing a parent, you have lost a huge part of yourself and your life’s history. Your parent will have watched you grow, shared in your successes and failures, helped you to become the person you are today, whoever that may be. With that comfort and security suddenly gone, you may suddenly feel lost and alone, even if you’ve attained a high level of independence. After their passing there will be a void during family get-togethers. The loss of your parent may subsequently result in the loss of your childhood home, which in turn, hightens and intensifys the sense of loss…
Losing a parent might lead to you consider for the first time your own mortality. This is entirely normal, but can cause distress.
Remember there is no standardised time frame when it comes to the grieving process. There is no formula; no right or wrong. As I always say: You just have to live it.
For help and support:
Cruse Bereavement Care
National charity set up to offer free, confidential help to bereaved people. Cruse produces booklets on coping with grief which you can buy on-line.