LOSS OF A PARENT
Updated: Mar 29, 2019
But I think, maybe,
There is some validity
In accepting that a part of you went with
The person who died,
And a part of them
Stayed with you.
Like many people I lost both of my parents within a relatively short time span. As a result, I, their only child, joined the ranks of Adult Orphans. The statistics I could find indicate that nearly 12 million adults or about 5 percent of the population lose a parent each year. As Alexander Levy in his book, The Orphaned Adult: Understanding and Coping with Grief and Change After the Death of our Parents says “[I]t is the ultimate equal-opportunity experience, requiring nothing other than children not predeceasing their parents.”
After having lost my own parents I realized how often I said either nothing or a short “I’m sorry for your loss” to others having lost their parents. To say the least receiving those comments did little to decrease the pain I felt months after my mother, my last surviving parent, passed.
Being an only child, or if by chance you are not particularly close to your other siblings, the loss of your last surviving parent is an intense loss. It matters none whether your relationship to your last surviving parent was particularly good during their lifetime, the loss is still deep and profound.
While reading Alexander Levy’s book I found that he spoke of the fact that accepting what was considered the “norm” he mourned his mother’s death for the couple of weeks then went on with his life. About 8 months later he describes a general unraveling that takes him to his physician and finally to the recognition that he needed to mourn “the losses of [his] parents and all the protective illusions that died with them.”
I didn’t read Mr. Levy’s book until about 3 years after my mother’s death. What was
particularly freaky for me was the 8-month period. My mother passed, and then I was laid off my job of 31 years. I am an alcoholic. 8 months after these events I relapsed (that which I hope and pray is for the last time) into drinking. Rather than mourn my parents’ loss, I lost myself in my wine bottles for a time.
There are certain obvious factors that interfere with the grief process. These can include avoiding emotions, overactivity to the point of exhaustion, and use of alcohol or other drugs. These avoidance mechanisms only prolong the grief process.
I do not believe there is any set amount of time or number of days, months, or years that one should/could grieve, but at some point, I would say less than 3 years one should have been able to return to the same level of energy and spirit as prior to the loss.
If you do not within what you consider a reasonable period return to your pre-loss state of mental health and physical energy, you may be experiencing Complicated Grief. Complicated Grief is a delayed or incomplete resolution, a failure to return, over time to the pre-loss levels of functioning. If you cannot manage to return to your pre-loss levels of functioning you may want to consider coaching or psychotherapy.
Initially I’d practice the steps outlined below.
· Be Patient with Yourself. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, take your life one day at a time. I do not recommend setting a timeline or timetable for your emotions. Give yourself time to accept what has happened.
· Expect a Myriad of Emotions. After the loss you may feel relief, anger, sadness, denial, grief, fear, and many other emotions. This is natural. Allow yourself to feel these emotions.
· Talk to a Friend. Keep in touch with close friends. Confide your emotions to a supportive close friend that you trust.
· Allow Yourself to Cry. Over the months following the loss you may feel like crying many
times. I cried as I gave away my mother’s clothes. (I kept them for months after her death. I could not face giving away her things. I could believe she was not really gone if her things were still here.) Allow yourself to cry. No one can release the grief without going through it.
· Contact a Therapist or Suicide Hotline. If you are having repeated thoughts of suicide immediately go to a psychiatric hospital, contact a therapist (psychologist or psychiatrist), or contact a suicide hotline. DO NOT DELAY.
· Look Inside. You may have thoughts about your own mortality, and you may think about your own death. Allow yourself to look inside and feel. It may be a good time to review your own spirituality, your beliefs, and your relationship with your Higher Power.
· Practice Self-Compassion. In our current world we are sometimes told to “get over it.” Don’t beat yourself up over your feelings of loss and grief…practice self-compassion.
· Practice Self-Care. Go to the doctor regularly, dress daily, shower and do basics like going to the salon or having your nails done. These items of self-care are important.
· If possible, Postpone Major Life Changes. After the loss of a parent it is sometimes necessary to make changes, but if it’s at all possible I’d not recommend moving to a new city, marrying someone you just met, or other such major life changes.
If you are a reader like me, I am including an internet link to a listing of books related to grieving for the death of a parent. It is https://www.allinahealth.org/health-conditions-and-treatments/grief-resources/suggested-books/books-for-adults-grieving-the-death-of-a-parent/ I do not have any knowledge that would allow me to recommend one book over another in this list.
It was very hard losing my parents. There are memories, both good and bad, but that is a separate discussion. The discussion of the day is grieving, mourning. Our parents are often one of the first people we see in our lives. We grow, we individuate, but we generally can’t leave their impact behind. When they are gone we must deal with the impact of them leaving. If I can be of assistance to you in that time, please contact me.