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.


12 days ago, said...

When my husband died, I found a good friend who had lived with us before my husband's death. 3 years later we realized we had a lot of chemistry between us. It turned into mutual love. Now , I feel that my adult children , are not only being selfish, they are trying to tell me, their mother, how to live my life. I have never been promiscuous, I had been married for 44 years and stuck with my husband even though the last 30 year of our marriage he did not work and did not contribute. Making me having to work 3 and 4 jobs and take care of everything else. He slept his life away. He never wanted to go anywhere with me. Now that I have found love, we are both older, although my love is a little younger, we have much in common. My older son has decided that I should allow him to call me senile, which I am not, I am an RN and am still working and I plan to return to college in Sept. to obtain my FNP license. He tells me I'm old, He is smarter that anyone in the world including me. I have told him I was treated like this by his father, but I was married to the man, I will not allow him to do this to me. I am a good person and I have found real love and I plan to keep loving this special man.


about 1 month ago, said...

My dad just died 2 days ago. We had a strained relationship most if my life but we were starting to get better during his time in the hospital. Unfortunately my dad just kept getting worse and he passed. The problem is with my husband. I had to beg my husband to call his boss to take a day off work to be with the family as my dad was passing. While we were outside one time my husband said "it's always something with you" as if it were my fault my dad was dying and I had inconvenienced by asking him to stay and be supportive. Then today as I am finding out about the funeral arrangements I made a suggestion that we stay overnite at a motel that us close to the funeral home and cemetary (it wild cost about 50.00 for the nite) which would help ease my stress he begins screaming at me that we will drive home and go back the next day or I could stay somewhere and he'd go home. Mind you he is a pallbearer. Also he wont go to the viewing before and wants me to go by myself. Here I am in tremendous pain from losing my parent and he is si selfish and making everything about how he feels. I am so disappointed and hurt. My siblings dint have any problem like this with their spouses.


about 1 month ago, said...

My father passed away very unexpectedly on Thanksgiving morning of this year. He was getting our entire family ready for a family vacation that he had planned. He was under the camper fixing a piece that had broken-something he did often- when the camper shifted. It landed on him and I pray every minute of everyday that he died instantly and did not suffer. He was the patriarch of our family-the one that did and knew everything. I am confused how to do this w/o him. I was lucky enough to have learned from him wisdom and I will think about him everyday in every choice that I make. Since my father has passed people have told me, "I know how you feel." Well, buddy- NO, you don't know how I feel. Just like I don't know how you feel right now. As I read thru all of your posts I weep for all of you and your individual situations. I don't know how you feel but I understand how losing a parent, someone u looked up to your entire life, is devastating. Try to take comfort in the good time; I try to think of every good thing I did with my father and I will pass that onto my two children and my unborn child. He will live on through me and my children. Don't let your parents legacy slip through the cracks. It hurts, I know it hurts, but I know they would wants us to be happy. Try to take comfort in that. Peace and love to you all! I kno they are watching!


about 1 month ago, said...

I lost both of my parents, ages 49&50 in a sudden accident this September. I'm only 25 years old, and their youngest child. I feel caught in the middle of my grief and that of my siblings and their families, my 2 children and husband, as well as my grandparents and aunt and uncles. Somehow we have been able to lean on each other to get through day by day; my parents held our worlds together. We don't always know what to do or what to say to each other, but a simple "I love you" and a look in each other's eyes and we all know we are feeling shades of the same loss. The best we can do is honor their memory by continuing to be the people they helped us grow into.


2 months ago, said...

I lost my father Dec 2, 2016. The last 3 months were very difficult. He died of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. I thought I would have comfort knowing he was no longer suffering but it seems unbearable accepting he is gone. It's been 2 weeks and I walk around.hoing through the motions of fulfilling my daily responsibilities. But inside my heart hurts and weeps. My father was my glue. Kept me going when I felt I couldn't. He was the buffer between me and my mother and siblings. I am lost and so alone. How do people do it. I don't get it. Help.


2 months ago, said...

My parents died four days apart. As a matter of fact, my dad died on the day of my mother's funeral. My sister and I were afraid to leave him because he might pass away alone, but it happened the way it happened. I am very angry. When this happened in March of this year, I was trying to finish school and didn't process it like I should have. I just forged ahead. Now that school is complete and it's the holidays, I feel sadness, anger, guilt, fatigue. I bought them a Christmas card but I don't know what the hell I am supposed to do with it. I refuse to go to their gravesite because they're not there! I just want to see my parents. I know all of this is so selfish, but I am mad because I feel they just left and I haven't seen them at all. I know sometimes our loved ones show themselves, but mine hasn't and I don't know why. I don't know what to do with myself.


2 months ago, said...

I just lost my mother nov, 13,2016. From diabetes, heart failure ,kidney failure, she literally drowned in her own fluidsite. I was able to so cpr to bring her back but then she flat lined again she died at my house and I think I see and smell her all the time. It's so so hard like I haven't excepted that shes gone. It hasn't really hit me it's like a dream or nightmare. And every single night I dream of her I'm talking to her and she's talking to me .but I feel like I didn't do this or that right or she wld be here. It's so so so hard.


2 months ago, said...

I lost my mother unexpectedly December 3rd 2016 to heart disease. My head is so confused there are times when I can smell her perfume is this normal?


3 months ago, said...

If it helps anyone I lost my brother, then my mom6 months later!!! 1 year later I lost my brother in-law to a od my dad 3 months after lost my dad all with in a year and a half time and it's been 7 years and really is no easier for me on holidays!!!! I miss they so much


3 months 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!


3 months 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.


3 months 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