Programs at Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County

Monday, February 23, 2015

Coping with the Loss of a Parent

It’s impossible to overstate the impact of losing a parent. No matter how old you are, you are always your parent’s child. And whether your relationship was close or distant, this person has been part of your life since your very first day on Earth. The world looks and feels different without your parent in it, and it will take time to adjust.

You’ll naturally be experiencing a full range of emotions, from anger to relief, and nostalgia to pain. Your feelings will very likely be intense and come in waves that may surprise you. All these responses are completely normal and natural. Give yourself permission to feel however you feel, and allow yourself time to grieve in whatever way feels right to you. During this difficult period in your life, you may also find comfort from these suggestions:

Communicate openly with your family.

You, your brothers and sisters, your surviving parent, and all the grandchildren will each experience this loss in unique, individual ways. Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible — and be kind to your family. Stress will be high for everyone right now, and it’s easy for disagreements and arguments to erupt. Remember that everyone is grieving, and know that most of these disputes will be expressions of that grief and not of anger against another family member.

If one of your parents has survived the other, be especially sensitive to his or her feelings. A surviving parent may suddenly be living alone for the first time in many years. Daily tasks that were normally completed by the deceased partner can pile up and act as constant reminders of loss. Be compassionate, help when you can, and allow your siblings to help as well. You may even find your bonds with brothers and sisters becoming stronger as a result of these troubled times — a real gift to everyone.

Reach out to compassionate friends.

Even among your closest friends, there will be those who discount your grief. They may attempt to comfort you by saying things like “It was all for the best,” or “He lived a long, full life” when all you really need to hear is “I’m sorry for your loss.” These people mean well, of course. But while you’re grieving — especially in those rough early stages — seek out the company of friends who are willing to acknowledge your feelings and listen to them without judgment. Sharing your feelings, while it won’t make them go away, will help you to deal with them in a healthy way.

If you haven’t already joined a support group, consider doing so. Your parent may have received hospice care in the last few weeks of life; if so, your hospice worker will be a great resource for finding this kind of help. Talking about your feelings with new friends who share your experiences can really assist you in your healing.

Understand your limits.

It’s quite likely you feel exhausted and stressed. This is especially true if you spent a great deal of time caring for your parent. Now is the time for you to rest and to be aware of your limits. Be sure to eat healthy, regular meals and get plenty of sleep. If you can, make your work schedule lighter. If you find yourself less active than usual, respect your need to slow down for a while.

Know too, that you can’t rush the healing process — so forcing yourself to think about your parent’s death all the time will be painful and unproductive. Allow yourself to grieve when you need to, but take some time to live as well. It’s also very important to understand that your emotions will color your decisions from time to time. Those wild rushes of feeling can make your judgment a bit less reliable than usual, so try to avoid making any big decisions until you’ve regained your emotional balance.

Treasure your most precious memories.

If you have some important keepsakes from your parent that trigger fond memories, keep these close to you. Many people find comfort from a favorite sweater, a bottle of cologne, or a special book. Create a photo album together with your family, and spend some moments sharing favorite stories as you build your memory book. Keep in mind that even though these are happy memories, they may bring feelings of sadness and even a few tears — and that’s okay.

Explore the various ways your parent lives on in you and your siblings as personal ethics, habits, talents and behaviors. Acknowledging that your parent lives on through you can bring great peace to your heart and add richness and infinite love to all your lives.

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