6 Reasons a Parent's Death Is a Special Kind of Loss

sharing a tissue

The death of a mother or father can strike an adult child unexpectedly hard. Parent death brings a unique kind of grieving, whether you've been a hands-on caregiver and helper at the end of life or your parent has been living independently and well. The break in the parent-child bond can reverberate for the rest of your life.

Here are six factors that grief experts say can shape grieving over a parent's death:

1. Our parents are our "wisdom keepers." "We spend a lifetime looking to our parents for answers," says psychotherapist Sherry E. Showalter, author of Healing Heartaches: Stories of Loss and Life. They're the repositories of knowledge about our history, our upbringing, family traditions, the names of all those faces in old photos. With their passing so, too, goes the information and insight that hasn't already been transmitted or recorded.

2. Unresolved issues often follow the parent-child relationship into adulthood. The balance of the parent-child relationship shifts several times, first as we gain maturity and create our own families, and then as parents grow older and often need our support. These realities bring plenty of opportunities for misunderstanding or discord. And not all these bumps are smoothed out by the end. Differences that go unreconciled can leave a forlorn sense of unfinished business, Showalter says.

3. Parent death always feels sudden -- even when it's not. People often expect that the death of someone older or someone who's been ill for a long time will feel easier to endure because it's predictable. Yet the disappearance from your life of a figure you've known since birth is, when it finally happens, always a sudden change.

4. Decisions about rituals are up to you. "Suddenly you're the adult preparing the funeral, the viewing, the obituary, the eulogy -- there's nobody older to tell you how to manage, no one to correct you or say, 'No, that's not how you do it!'" says one woman in her 40s who lost both parents within two years. "I felt pushed to a different level of adulthood."

5. Your children lose grandparents. Many people who lose their parents talk about "grieving for what won't ever be" -- being unable to ask their parents for parenting advice, for example, or having their parents attend their children's birthday parties, graduations, and weddings. Parents may also need to help their children mourn, or they may feel a need to preserve the grandparents' legacy for their children.

6. Losing the "buffer generation" forces us to reexamine our own mortality. When a grandparent dies, there's still a whole generation between you and death. With a parent's death, your own eventual demise may feel uncomfortably nearer.


4 days ago, said...

I lost my mom November 14, 2016, and I'm a mess, the world feels empty, everything is so quite, time seems to have stopped. Every morning I get up and first thing is remind me of my loss, I feel stronger but as the day progresses I come back and think about her, how precious she was! I miss her so much!


8 days ago, said...

I lost my father July 24th 2016 to stage 4 lung cancer and my mother September 21st 2016 to multiple sclerosis. I had quit my job to move in with them and become a full time caregiver as well as being a mother to my 6 year old son and only being 26 years old. I'm a nurse and it was so hard because I knew what the outcomes were I knew what signs to look for. I was very close to my parents I saw them every day even though I lived an hour away. I miss them so much and losing them in just 8 weeks apart from each other was so devastating. What has helped me was going back to work and helping my patients the way I would my family.


10 days ago, said...

I just lost my mother on November 17,2016. She was having pacemaker surgery and there we complications. The pain is unimaginable. My mother has had health problem s for the last 16 years. My siblings and I life was been wrapped around day hera for do many years. I'm at a list. I've been going around making arrangements, contacting friends. And trying to comfort my siblings. I'm so afraid to stopped moving. Part of me wants to crawl into bed and just stay there, but there is not comfort even when I sleep. She's there in my dreams


17 days ago, said...

@lee9321 I'm so sorry for the loss of your precious parents. So sorry for your pain. I too torment myself about what I could have should have done. I think nearly everyone carries this guilt. I think it wld be better for me to to forgive myself & let it go somehow. I hope you find a way to healing that hurt I know is huge.


18 days ago, said...

I lost my mum in Jan 2013 then my brother July 2014. Mum was my closest friend and so was Eddie my brother. I'm a lost sheep ever since. I do not have this bond with anyone else. I thank God for my husband, if he weren't here to take care of me, I wouldn't survive all this grief. I now fear losing my husband as he is all I have left. Billions of people in this world but can't bond with anyone the way I did with my loved ones. Life hurts. Life is unfair. Life can be good.


about 1 month ago, said...

My mother passed away October 29th, 2006 from battling breast CA and my father just passed away last Friday November 14th with a very short 6 week battle with colon CA with mets all over. He had so much pain. It was so sad and difficult. I am so saddened by this. He was my rock someone I always went to. I feel so bad I hadn't talked to him as much this past year as he got a girlfriend and I tried to give him his space with her so he could be happy and not alone. She was very emotional and it was like walking on egg shells. I regret letting it bother me now as I wish I talked to him like we did before she came along. Me and my son were there prior to her all the time. It was so hard for me to let him go when he was hear and it is just awful and so difficult to bear with him completely gone now. Atleast he is with my mother he missed her so much. I just am so sad and I hope this doesn't last for a long time. Lot more to go through with his passing as we have to go through all of his belongings and sell our child hood home etc. just so so hard. I miss him so much. He was the best dad ever. He was so nice and helpful, I always could count on him!!! I live you and miss you mom and dad!!!!


about 1 month ago, said...

Both of my parents have been in bad health since 2007. I lived 5 mins away from them and took care of them after work and on weekends. They had home health care during the day. I am an only child as well. Both parents were in the hospital in 2014. I was told my Mom was not going to get well and we needed hospice. She passed away within 36 hours of admitting her into hospice. When my dad was well enough to come home he moved in with my husband and myself until his dementia and Parkinson's was too much for us to handle and we had to place him in a nursing home March of this year. Sept 18th we had to sign him into hospice and he passed away Oct. 5th. I feel so lost and feel like I don't belong to anything anymore. Does this feeling get better with time? I feel like I am drowning in a nightmare.


about 1 month ago, said...

I'm 23. I lost my mom suddenly on April of 2015. She apparently had cancer, some think she knew. I talk to my mom on Friday and that was the last time I got to hear her voice. By the following Friday I held her hand as she passed away, with only my words to remember. I have a sister thats 28 whom I'm not very close with and a 15 year old brother who is my world. My dad is supportive but grieving in his own way. My biggest problem is coping while everyone else kind of does ier own thing. Me and my mother had a very rocky relationship and inconviently the Saturday I found out she was in the hospital all I could think of was making our relationship stronger and how I want a normal mother daughter relationship. I never got to tell her.... I'm sad and even more because me and my sister have totally drifted apart. I feel like I'm coping with not just the loss of my mother, but e demise of my family. I also have a three year old daughter, how can I do all this and stay strong for her?


3 months ago, said...

to the commenter that recently lost his father, My father was 45 when I was born and I was 24 when he passed away. I feel that loss too. so many years that have been missed. my mother passed away suddenly from septic shock on May 24th. it has been crushing for me. she had a massive stroke in 1997 when she was 63. there has always been interaction between us despite the fact she lost her speech then. she was a large part of my life that she was still here. I was not prepared and now I feel lost and more alone than ever. I am deeply depressed, feel guilt and confusion. the would have, could have, should haves are tormenting and missing her presence is heartbreaking.


4 months ago, said...

My Father was 45 when I was born, so growing up I realized I would be fairly young when he passed. I thought I would be prepared. Just lost him Tuesday the 9th and I'm extremely lost without him.


4 months ago, said...

Lisatill I know the feeling - like you I don't know how to "go on" or get past it either. Yes the getting physically sick part is something I fully understand. I think it's just depression and now a year later I still struggle with it - I don't remember not being in a "happy place" before or not "getting over" a situation. I hope you have a good support system. My child is the reason I keep pushing myself. Like you I am happy that your children survived the horrific accident that took your mother. People say it will get better I hope it gets better for you. I will keep you in my prayers as you struggle to overcome this sadness. You are not alone.


4 months ago, said...

I lost my father January 15th 2016 from kidney failure. He wasn't well for a while as he had several health issues, but his loss was devastating. Then on June 16th I lost my mother, very suddenly. She was in a car accident with my 2 children in the car., ages 11 and 7. My children are okay, just had scrapes and bruises. It's a miracle but I am devastated. Both losses within 5 months is overwhelming and I am having such a hard time. I know grief must take its course, but I can't see the light. I feel worse everyday. The stress of the grief is exhausting and I feel it's making me sick. There are many details of my mothers accident that haunt me. I saw her car on the way to the hospital. It was on the local news with the picture of the wreck. I can't get the images out of my mind. Devastated that my mother died, but also thankful that my children are fine.