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.


6 days ago, said...

Lilcoz2048, Takes a lot of strength to reminiscence. My household had a lot of tension and stress that pushed down most of my grieving for my mom. Now, that my dad is gone, neighbors or friends company is useless because my parents were my life. Writing this to you will not make it better. I ask for God's help and wonder according to his word, the duration to grieve.Scripture put the past behind us but, with emotions God gave us with that parent child bond, how does one do that when all that person has is the grieving that gives a sense of them being here. Sorry for venting. .


6 days ago, said...

michaelcarvalho Thank you for the kind words, it's been a little over a month closer to two months since I lost my Best Friend My pops.. Today was the first day that there was a toy show ( Which we always did together... It was a very bitter sweet feeling.. A lot of friends there for support and remembering him... And of course a lot of toys... My mom is the type that loves pictures and we have spent hours in the last few weeks looking at them as a family, it's hard a lot of great memory's but great cause I Have also learned more about my dad


6 days ago, said...

LydiaRT, a double blow to experience. How did you do it because I would not make it? I gather, you must have had great support.


6 days ago, said...

EmrElsa losing your dad and experiencing the grieving is overwhelming. How some people move on could be, they were not close to their parents because they had their own issues, raised by someone else, their parents were not pleasant. These are people I know of with parental experience and have no emotional understanding for my loss on 1-2-17. Those people never grieved or understand that people grieve differently.


7 days ago, said...

michaelcarvalho I am with you. it has been almost a year since mom passed away. and my grief is still there. peppered with 'what if's' and should have, could have's I am amazed and saddened how easily many just move on quickly after they lose an elderly parent. I have not been able to do so. I miss her as much as ever or maybe more. in my mind I say what if....what if she were still here? my moms ending was tragic. a simple uti turned sepsis. she had collapsed and ignored by a neighbor when she wanted help. sad because my mom was a compassionate woman. I feel she was just wronged. a stroke leaving her with no voice for nearly 20 years till she passed. she was doing fairly good till she was about to turn 81. and it all faded so fast. I have distanced myself from nearly everyone. I am very hurt and feel life and the health care system let my mom down. its so disappoinitng


7 days ago, said...

Lilcoz2048, sorry for your loss. Cling to your mom. You are her iron staff. Hope you have others who support you and her emotions. You may not feel fortunate but, you have one parent remaining which is a blessing. Is she the type who wants to walk down memory lane and look at pictures? If so, she is a strong woman.


7 days ago, said...

Lost my dad 1-2-2017. Basically, alone without support. Most people avoid me because I speak my mind when they feel things are better in some way but they don't realize, I was his caregiver from hospital causing his dementia condition and bed ridden for months till I brought him back to a functioning state at home then malignant tumor and moron doctors and hospice saying he was dying, according to conventional methods. Daily tears like Niagara falls and continuous what if's. He was very supportive when mom died. Over forty years same home with him. Seems, adult children are meant to accept their loss better than others but others fail to realize we are born with the same emotions. We are not robots


8 days ago, said...

How does some moms die


25 days ago, said...

I lost my dad unexpected on April 2014, then in August 2014 lost my mom after battling cancer for 18 months. To be grieving for one parent and then to see you are losing your other is difficult. It will be 3 years in 6 days for my dad and I can still remember like it was just that day (again). I have a grand daughter now and I always say "What your great grandparents wouldn't do for you, or they would have already have gotten her this or that". I wish they were here to see her. Her middle name is my mom's name. To all those whom have lost a parent, I feel your pain and I understand. God Bless.


26 days ago, said...

I lost my mom November 2016 and feel empty and very sad most days


26 days ago, said...

I am reading your comments and crying. I lost my mom on May 21st last year. I so understand. My mom was my best friend. I know she is with me but I don't dream about her (I wish). I pray and ask for her guidance. I sometimes can feel her answer as if it were my own thought (even if contradictory). The pain....It never goes away but it gets better. She would want that. I have a 5 year old that ADORED her and a 1 year old that only knew her for 4 months (1 of those very bad as she died suddenly of brain cancer). I miss her every day. I miss the times she would/should be here. I am blessed to have my daughter remember her. I am blessed to have had my son's first real smile be directed towards her. XOXO to all who have lost.


27 days ago, said...

My mother passed November 14 2016 , I talked to her the day before like normal going over thanksgiving , the next morning while at the dentist with all my kids got the call she never woke up , call my husband a million times , made it home to.wait for him to come home so.I could leave to go to her house, having him call wondering when I would be back so he could go back to work, I have now developed anxiety and major depression that is ruining my marriage he just doesn't understand why I.hurt , it was just my mom......


about 1 month ago, said...

I just lost my Dad on 3/13/2017, I have a empty feeling that I just can't get rid of.. I feel like I lost everything, Lost my Best Friend does this feeling every go away, I am helping my Mom with everything she needs done, Love my Mom... When I talk to her it helps but still have a empty feeling... What can I do to help...


about 1 month ago, said...

About a yr a half ago- I lost .my mother about 1 1/2 years ago.. She suffered from, dementia / sun)downers condition. For 5 yrs! She broke both hips within less than a year. Multiple falls, uti's every month..n3 times she was found unresponsive due to drugs given her-?ambulances hd to.be called band she was given Narcon to revive her. She was found by a volunteer due to her yelling for help. She was lying naked in her own urine..... The staff ignored her!!!I am trying to get through the grief. I take meds for anxiety and panic attacks. How do I move forward??? All.I want do is sleep and lay on th couch.after work.What should I do?