Written by: Cally Worden
In a perfect world our parents grow old gracefully and pass away peacefully, having lived full and happy lives. For many this is how it plays out, but for others death may be quick and unexpected, or follow a long and difficult illness. However it happens, nothing can prepare you for when it comes. Somehow we just expect Mum and Dad to be there like they always have. Everyone copes with grief in different ways. None is right, and none is wrong, but there are coping strategies that can help to ease the pain.
Whether this takes the form of a religious ceremony, or a more modern celebration of the life of the deceased, the funeral represents a chance to say goodbye. The process is like a ritual, and getting involved in the arrangements can help those left behind begin to organise their thoughts and emotions. Sharing memories, reading a poem that holds special meaning, or playing music and singing songs or hymns are all common ways in which people express their feelings about the departed loved one.
When you lose a parent, nothing is ever quite the same again. Those who have been close with their parents may find it particularly difficult to cope with the hole that the loss has left in their lives. For others who have had a more distant or difficult relationship, there may be issues of guilt, resentment and anger to manage too. The loss of a parent can be a good starting point for looking at your life in a different way, and perhaps stimulating change for the better.
Following the death of a parent there is a shift in family roles. If there is a surviving parent then as adult children you may need to turn your attentions to them, and feel a degree of responsibility for their well-being. This kind of role-reversal can be daunting and if you are an only child these burdens can feel immense.
In any event, enlisting the help and support of the wider family, and friends can help. For siblings, the burdens can in theory be shared, but not all brothers and sisters get on, and being thrown together following the death of a parent can bring its own challenges. If sibling relationships are strained try to set aside differences while dealing with the practicalities, and be mindful of the feelings of the remaining parent. It may also be an opportunity to bury the hatchet with brothers and sisters – the death of a parent can act as a catalyst to bring you closer.
Grief manifests itself in many forms, but it is always intense. To some, the emotions are a scary thing, and they cope by internalising their feelings for fear of losing control if they confront them. These people may appear to be unmoved by the death, or even coping brilliantly, but that does not lessen their grief, and nor does it mean they don’t need support. Suppressed emotions of this magnitude will surface eventually.
Others may be very public in their grief. Inconsolable crying, anger, and denial are all aspects of the grieving process that can be very visible in those who need to let it all out. This can be difficult for siblings with calmer responses to deal with, and having extended family members and friends on hand to help everyone cope can help.
The Family Home
One of the most difficult things to be done after the death of a parent is visiting the family home. If one parent remains, and cannot, or does not want to keep the family home, then it may be necessary to arrange for the sale. This can place a great deal of pressure on family members who living closest, so try to share the burden as much as possible, wherever you live.
Take Care of You
It can be easy to become so wrapped up in caring for the remaining parent, or other family members, that you suppress your own grief. Allowing yourself time and space to experience these emotions is vital to your long-term wellbeing, so make sure you have sufficient support around you.
Many people find that joining a grief support group can help. Realising you are not alone can be incredibly liberating. It can also help you to realise that most people experience the loss of a parent at some point, and although the grief may feel unmanageable, time will help you to heal. You will get through it.
Losing a parent causes many people to reassess their lives. It is a stark reminder of your own mortality. Be aware of how losing your parent may change the way you look at life, and the goals you may have. Don’t forget that if you have a partner, their reality may have remained as yet unchanged, and give them time to adjust to your new view of the world.
The ability to look at life with fresh eyes is an unexpected consequence of losing a parent. Look upon this as their gift to you and use it wisely, along with all the other advice they ever gave you, to help guide the rest of your life in a positive way.