We can anticipate death. We can expect it. We can even be relieved when it finally comes to a person who's been very ill for a long time. We can't, however, minimize the pain that comes with losing somebody we love.
We all will face death within our lifetimes. Some of us avoid it for many years, not even losing a grandparent or family friend to death until we're in our 20s or 30s. Others encounter death early on. A parent dies in an accident, or a brother or sister succumbs to a deadly childhood disease. Either way, we all will have to cope with loss in our journeys through life.
Losing a Parent
You may experience additional grief when a parent dies through the grief of your children, who are mourning the loss of a grandparent. Be aware of your children's grief, but don't try to put your own feelings aside in order to comfort them. Experience the sadness together.
Don't Go There
Don't feel that there's something wrong with you if you're devastated by the loss of a parent. We each have a unique relationship with our parents, and we'll each experience their deaths differently. Don't apologize for your grief, and don't allow others to rush you through the grieving process.
In the natural circle of life, our grandparents should die before our parents, our parents before us, and we before our children. And generally, that's the case.
Even though we understand this cycle, it's extremely difficult to lose a parent. This is partially because losing our mother or father forces us into a new role. We are no longer the “next generation.” We move from the second generation to the first. And, we lose the mother-child or father-child bond that we shared with a parent. Losing your second parent can stir up feelings of abandonment—that you're all alone in the world.
Whether your relationship with your mom and/or dad is great, indifferent, or difficult, chances are that his or her death will affect you on many levels. If you didn't live close to your parent, you may feel sad or guilty that you didn't have more time with him. Guilt also may occur if you didn't have a close or loving relationship with your parent. You might wish that you had tried harder to get closer or to improve the situation.
You may feel relief at death if your parent has suffered for a long time, and those feelings might spawn additional guilt. Know, however, that feeling relief upon the death of someone who has been suffering is a natural reaction, and actually an expression of your love for your parent.
And, you might feel anger or resentment toward a parent who has died. Unresolved issues can sometimes surface, and you may feel angry that Mom died before you had the chance to work them out. Or you might have the feeling that you need Dad to take care of you, and experience anger at him for leaving you on your own.
Because our relationships with our parents change so much from the time we're kids until we reach adulthood, they're usually complex and operate on many levels. When a parent dies, we experience complex emotions, as a result.
And, if your parent was elderly, chances are that other people may not fully recognize or acknowledge your loss. They'll tell you that you should be happy for the years you had with your dad, or that your mom was lucky to have a good, long life. While those sentiments are true, they don't encompass the grief you're feeling at the loss of your parent.
On a practical side, the death of a parent may mean a tremendous amount of work for you—or for you and your siblings, if you have them. You may have to oversee the sale of a home, dispose of all possessions, sort out personal property, or execute your parent's will.
If you're an heir to your parent's estate, you'll have to make some decisions about what to do with the money or property you may receive.
Many of us have already lost one or both parents. If not, chances are that you will before too long. While you can't ever fully prepare for the death of someone you love, know that you can expect to feel many different emotions on many different levels. If you find it's necessary to do so, get help from a religious leader, trusted friend, support group, or counselor.