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.


7 days ago, said...

It will be 10 years on April 6 of this year will that my mom has been gone. I was 15 and an only child and I didn't know my dad. I lost my mom to a sudden heart attack while we were on the highway. It was my grandmothers birthday(my moms mom). Even after all this time I still break down as if it happened yesterday it still really hurts. It will be 10 years on April 6 of this year will that my mom has been gone. I was 15 and an only child and I didn't know my dad. I lost my mom to a sudden heart attack while we were on the highway. It was my grandmothers birthday(my moms mom). Even after all this time I still break down as if it happened yesterday it still really hurts. Hide


about 1 month ago, said...

I lost my mother to ALZ less than a month ago. It was a decade-long deterioration, I had braced myself and thought I was strong enough to endure the loss. I was wrong. I feel a very large hole in my life. I try to carry out my critical responsibilities and that's about it. If I try to take on more complex tasks or housekeeping duties, I get anxiety attacks. I wonder if this will subside with time. I am lost and devastated. I lost my mother to ALZ less than a month ago. It was a decade-long deterioration, I had braced myself and thought I was strong enough to endure the loss. I was wrong. I feel a very large hole in my life. I try to carry out my critical responsibilities and that's about it. If I try to take on more complex tasks or housekeeping duties, I get anxiety attacks. I wonder if this will subside with time. I am lost and devastated. Hide


2 months ago, said...

My daughter lost her dad three days before her third birthday. I waa seven months pregnant at the time with our second.child. i did not speak of him or even have pictures of him untill recently. She knows now what happenned and that the men who killed her dad are in prison. She gets very deppressed .quite often. I do not have any family whete we live. The relationship with my boyfriend is not good and she is really feeling the loss of her dad. I have five children total. I do not know what... Show more My daughter lost her dad three days before her third birthday. I waa seven months pregnant at the time with our second.child. i did not speak of him or even have pictures of him untill recently. She knows now what happenned and that the men who killed her dad are in prison. She gets very deppressed .quite often. I do not have any family whete we live. The relationship with my boyfriend is not good and she is really feeling the loss of her dad. I have five children total. I do not know what to do to try to help her. Some weekends she does not even get up... she stays in hee pajamas and does not even take a shower. She is ten Hide


2 months ago, said...

I lost my dad in a terrible accident at work on June 19th 2015. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to tell him that I wasn't mad at him for always making a mess, and that I love him anyways. I didn't get to tell him that I think he is the smartest, most generous man I have ever known. How do I live with all of these regrets? This all seems like a nightmare that I can't wake up from, like a big mistake that can and will be fixed. I look at his pictures and I am overwhelmed with the... Show more I lost my dad in a terrible accident at work on June 19th 2015. I didn't get to say goodbye. I didn't get to tell him that I wasn't mad at him for always making a mess, and that I love him anyways. I didn't get to tell him that I think he is the smartest, most generous man I have ever known. How do I live with all of these regrets? This all seems like a nightmare that I can't wake up from, like a big mistake that can and will be fixed. I look at his pictures and I am overwhelmed with the fear of not seeing him again. Why didn't I call him more, visit him more, worry less about him making messes in my new house????Why didn't I realize how precious time with my dad was? I don't know how to fix this. I don't know how to feel truly happy ever again. I don't know who I am without my dad in my life. No amount of visits to the cemetery, pictures of him hung in my house, or time spent taking care of my mom will make up for the time I could have spent with him. Hide


3 months ago, said...

P.S. JUST WONDERED WHEN DOES THE PAIN IN YOUR HEART STOP FEELING LIKE A KNIFE IS STUCK THROUGH IT? OR YOUR STOMACH FEEL LIKE YOUR GONNA PUKE? OR YOU MISS HIM SO MUCH YOU CAN'T STOP CRYING? DOES ANYONE KNOW CAUSE I'M ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATED : ( P.S. JUST WONDERED WHEN DOES THE PAIN IN YOUR HEART STOP FEELING LIKE A KNIFE IS STUCK THROUGH IT? OR YOUR STOMACH FEEL LIKE YOUR GONNA PUKE? OR YOU MISS HIM SO MUCH YOU CAN'T STOP CRYING? DOES ANYONE KNOW CAUSE I'M ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATED : ( Hide


3 months ago, said...

My daddy passed 11-18-15. Yes I still call him Daddy....as anyone can be a dad/father...it takes a very special man to be a "Daddy"! I spent countless days at his bedside in house hospice at st anthonys hospital. He was too ill to come home to hospice. I would talk to him, sing to him, and hold him/his hand. He stayed to spend my birthday with me for the last time 11-17-15 and passed the next day. We buried him 2 days ago and I miss him terribly. I love him sooooooooooo very much. I was... Show more My daddy passed 11-18-15. Yes I still call him Daddy....as anyone can be a dad/father...it takes a very special man to be a "Daddy"! I spent countless days at his bedside in house hospice at st anthonys hospital. He was too ill to come home to hospice. I would talk to him, sing to him, and hold him/his hand. He stayed to spend my birthday with me for the last time 11-17-15 and passed the next day. We buried him 2 days ago and I miss him terribly. I love him sooooooooooo very much. I was a daddy's girl and I'm just so devastated. Today thanksgiving I do thank our lord for the time he gave me with him and how blessed I am to be his daughter. He was the kindest man ever.... Hide


3 months ago, said...

I recentlj. Lost my father he had a heart attack I am having a hate time I cry myself to sleep every night and slough my dad was 75 it's still hard because it's like a dream right now slough it's all so final. I do nth ink he was depressed We did have a special father daughter bond I gonna really miss him his wisdom At times he was selfish though and unair to my poor mom who York the brunt of his dreams Ning he also smoked I tried many times to ask him to quit. But my brother and my... Show more I recentlj. Lost my father he had a heart attack I am having a hate time I cry myself to sleep every night and slough my dad was 75 it's still hard because it's like a dream right now slough it's all so final. I do nth ink he was depressed We did have a special father daughter bond I gonna really miss him his wisdom At times he was selfish though and unair to my poor mom who York the brunt of his dreams Ning he also smoked I tried many times to ask him to quit. But my brother and my dad had a lot of tug of was issues I know it's hard for him does it ever get better. Some people told me remember all the good times with your dad Hide


3 months ago, said...

I'm trying so hard to find some information to give my fiancé who had a gigantic family how horrible I feel about having no blood family. My fiance doesn't get it.... We have a fight, he can talk to his mom, dad, 5 brothers, 20 something cousins/aunts/uncles. Someone will always be there for him. I witnessed my father's dead body in my bedroom at 18, my mom took a nap with me a few years later while watching a movie and I woke up to her dead, bleeding out her eyes, ears, etc. The police even... Show more I'm trying so hard to find some information to give my fiancé who had a gigantic family how horrible I feel about having no blood family. My fiance doesn't get it.... We have a fight, he can talk to his mom, dad, 5 brothers, 20 something cousins/aunts/uncles. Someone will always be there for him. I witnessed my father's dead body in my bedroom at 18, my mom took a nap with me a few years later while watching a movie and I woke up to her dead, bleeding out her eyes, ears, etc. The police even questioned me for matricide. I have no siblings, there are two aunts out there, but it's more likely I get struck by lightning on the day I win the lottery to have them agree to notice me. They've made it clear I don't exist. My fiance doesn't understand how empty it feels!!!!!!!!! I'm a recovering addict, I'm working on my mental health, in doing ask the things I'm supposed to. Though sometimes I just break down because I miss my parents. Especially my mom... My best friend. If there was a god, what a freaking joke that is. Hide


3 months ago, said...

I lost my Mum almost 12 years ago of cancer, she died in my arms and I still miss her terribly, she was my best friend. 3 weeks ago my Dad went abroad on holiday, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. Although we have had the funeral and I cried, it does not feel at all real. I just keep waiting for him to come back off holiday. When will it feel real? I lost my Mum almost 12 years ago of cancer, she died in my arms and I still miss her terribly, she was my best friend. 3 weeks ago my Dad went abroad on holiday, he suffered a massive heart attack and died. Although we have had the funeral and I cried, it does not feel at all real. I just keep waiting for him to come back off holiday. When will it feel real? Hide


4 months ago, said...

How do you support or help someone who lost their father- sudden but not completely unexpected- 12years ago and struggles daily- emotionally and physically? Causing physical damage and tearing long-term relationships apart. Needing more and more time to themselves. More outbursts of anger, alcohol abuse, and verbally abusive at times. Lack of responsibility, denies this- yet delegates that he isn't the only person able to perform certain duties. He accepts that he is struggling, just... Show more How do you support or help someone who lost their father- sudden but not completely unexpected- 12years ago and struggles daily- emotionally and physically? Causing physical damage and tearing long-term relationships apart. Needing more and more time to themselves. More outbursts of anger, alcohol abuse, and verbally abusive at times. Lack of responsibility, denies this- yet delegates that he isn't the only person able to perform certain duties. He accepts that he is struggling, just doesn't except all the ways that he lashes out. His behaviors mimic his fathers way of life, different times-different ways? Any advice negative or positive would be appreciated! Thanks! Hide


4 months ago, said...

I lost my dad August this year (2015) i nursed him with prostrste cancer and the last 6 months were tough he lost so much wieght the ability to walk and toileting i never minded doing anything for him i loved him so much, he was in hospital a few times and the last time i was told his cancer was now very aggressive and he just had weeks to live i managed to get him home 2 days before he died that was all he wanted i miss him so much i find myself crying all the times i am alone i walk with... Show more I lost my dad August this year (2015) i nursed him with prostrste cancer and the last 6 months were tough he lost so much wieght the ability to walk and toileting i never minded doing anything for him i loved him so much, he was in hospital a few times and the last time i was told his cancer was now very aggressive and he just had weeks to live i managed to get him home 2 days before he died that was all he wanted i miss him so much i find myself crying all the times i am alone i walk with the dog in the park and find myself crying i ache for him i feel lost even though i have a loving husband and grown up sons i feel lost all i want is to be with my dad is this normal Hide


4 months ago, said...

After losing my father, I had such regrets. Reflecting back, now I can see clearly that he knew he was fading (heart problems) but wouldn't help himself. I wish I could have seen more clearly at the time and help to take care of him. The signs were there! I didn't reach out and I'll always live with that! No changing it! It's done! I failed him and can never undo it. If he died and had known how much I loved him (as he did so much for me in my life) by my actions of support, his... Show more After losing my father, I had such regrets. Reflecting back, now I can see clearly that he knew he was fading (heart problems) but wouldn't help himself. I wish I could have seen more clearly at the time and help to take care of him. The signs were there! I didn't reach out and I'll always live with that! No changing it! It's done! I failed him and can never undo it. If he died and had known how much I loved him (as he did so much for me in my life) by my actions of support, his death would be easier for me to live with. Instead my heart is filled with tears of regret and will be for as long as I live. Bottom line is ~ we're all only here for a short while. Let those you love know it by your ACTIONS! Words are fine, but the way you act and support those you care about is what real love is-no words needed. Learn from my mistakes. SHOW the people you love them while they're ALIVE! Hide