Adults are often surprised at the emotions which can threaten to overwhelm them following the death of a parent. After all, they reason, it is in the natural order of things that children will one day bury their parents. Why then the pain, the sense of confusion, the feeling of having been abandoned? This may well be because, buried in our subconscious, is the belief that our parents are immortal.
The death of a parent can create feelings of vulnerability. When a parent dies, there are often other feelings of loss. There may be the loss of a home, the sense of loss of our link with the past, even the loss of the expectation that someday our relationship might have changed. Also, there may be strong feelings of longing – a need to have a parent around ‘forever’ to share our future accomplishments and offer support in our times of need. There may be regrets – of things said or not said e.g. if only I had said “I love you”.
The relationship which existed before the death can affect how we grieve and can result in mixed feelings. Because each of us is unique, we have a different relationship with each parent and with our siblings. This can cause problems when trying to deal with feelings that emerge for us. As we look back at our childhood, teenage years and adulthood, we may discover that there are unresolved issues which were never addressed.
“What do I need to do?”
In order to let your parent go, you need to deal with any feelings that may arise, apportion blame (if necessary), and forgive your parent and yourself. It is important for your well-being that you talk about how you feel with someone you trust. You are not being disloyal or detracting from your parent if you talk about hurts that may surface for you, nor will this diminish any relationship you had with that parent.
If there has been role reversal – where you have acted as the carer of a parent – you may now experience feelings of relief and release. These feelings in turn, may cause anxiety, anger and guilt. You may try to stifle these feelings by attempting to continue the role of caretaker for the rest of the family. By clinging to this carer role, you may prevent yourself from dealing with your grief.
‘Grief’ feelings need to be acknowledged and accepted and, if at all possible, shared with someone you trust.
If there is a surviving parent, the feelings of responsibility for, and often the real needs of that parent, may prevent you from dealing with your own grief. When the second parent dies, the sense of loss and feelings of abandonment may be particularly strong and you may become even more aware of your own mortality. Sometimes the death of parents may cause the family to lose its focal point, siblings drift apart and no longer keep in touch. This may be experienced as another loss to be grieved.
If there are grandchildren, they should be allowed to express their grief. The sharing of grief with grandchildren can help each of you to talk about the feelings that the death has brought to the surface. Although grief work is difficult and painful, by working through your grief and all the feelings that come up, it is possible to achieve a sense of peace and to retain ‘significant’ memories of your parent.
The Bereavement Counselling Service is there to listen and provide support as you struggle with your grief.
In our modern world just surviving can be hard work. It is doubly hard to pull yourself out of an emotional trough but it is not impossible. Each time you cope with a crisis and make a major decision you will feel good about yourself. When you reach a goal you will gain satisfaction and self-assurance through your own competence. With time and effort you will recover to lead a full and rewarding life once again.