Coping With the Grief Caused by the Loss of an Aging Parent


It doesn’t matter how old you are when you lose a parent. It is always hard. When you lose a parent regardless of your relationship you will have strong feelings about their death.

My father died when I was 60. I still felt like an orphan. Connections to our parents are strong. You have a shared history. Your relationship to your parents helps shape you to become the person that you are. Grief is a complicated emotion especially in relation to a parent.


Universal Elements of Grief:

  • Grief is a collection of feelings including sadness, relief, shock, pain, depression, anger and more.
  • The way you experience grief is unique to you. It is contingent on many factors including the nature of your relationship with the one who died, how the person died, and your own individual personality.
  • Grief is influenced by how your loved one died. A sudden death like an accident
  1. a death caused by an extended illness will impact the way grief is experienced.
  • There are often physical symptoms associated with grief like headaches, loss of sleep, stomach aches, nausea, chest pains, and lethargy.
  • There is no wrong or right way to grieve. It is an very personal process. The intensity of grief can diminish with the passage of time.
  • Grief can arise at unexpected moments. It can be triggered by an anniversary, birthday, hearing a song that was meaningful to a loved one. You cannot always prepare yourself  for the onset of grief.


Ways to Cope With Grief:

  • Allow yourself time to mourn. If you don’t grieve you will not begin to heal from the loss of your parent. Not mourning can create isolation. This gives your friends and family cues about how to help you through your grief.
  • Talk about the death of your parent. Talk with people you trust that can support you through this loss. Discussing fond memories of your parent can be a source of comfort. It is a way to celebrate their lives. Treasure these memories.
  • Give Yourself Permission to Accept Your Feelings-You will be flooded with emotions after the death of a parent. This is true whether your relationship was healthy or not. Those with unresolved issues may feel anger that not they will never have the opportunity to address the parent who has died. Those that were victims of abuse by the deceased parent need to feel associated feelings like rage, anger, or relief, in order to move forward.
  • Remember to Take Care of Yourself-You need to be conscious of taking care of yourself and your immediate family. Try to eat well, get sleep, and exercise as best you can. Make opportunities to spend time in a positive way with friends and family.


Unhealthy Signs of Grief:

  • Thoughts of suicide-This can occur if you somehow blame yourself for the death or feel responsible. Some people unfairly chastise themselves for not doing enough. Feelings of loneliness can evolve into thoughts of self harm. Sometimes people feel at a loss to manage their own lives without their loved one.
  • Drug or Alcohol Abuse-Substances can be used to numb feelings. The loss of  a loved one for people with a history of addiction can trigger a relapse. People use substances as a way to forget relationships that have painful memories.
  • Inability to function on a Day to Day Basis-You are unable to function at work, school, or in other relationships. Loss of appetite, sleep, and isolation from others can signal serious depression.
  • Symptoms Don’t Go Away-If you experience these symptoms for an extended period of time that is a warning sign that you may need more support.


Additional Tips:


Recall ways you coped with crisis and loss in the past. Rely on them now. Faith and spirituality are important places to go at times of significant loss like this. Many people find comfort in creating tributes in memory of their parents. Examples of this are photo books, videos, planting a tree in their honor. Volunteering in a cause that was meaningful to your parent is another way to work through grief.

If you find that the unhealthy signs of grief do not diminish after a few months consider seeking additional help. Sometimes the loss of a parent can be overwhelming and immobilizes you. You may need the help of a trusted clergy member or healthcare professional to help you through this challenging time.

Finally, if you were the primary caregiver for your parent their loss will be especially significant. You suddenly have a lot of free time to adjust to. If you spent a lot of time as their caregiver, it can be difficult to adapt and find ways to make meaningful time for yourself or others. Caregiving is a huge responsibility and demanding. There may be feelings of relief knowing your parent is not suffering anymore. Don’t chastise yourself for experiencing these feelings. They are not uncommon. Be kind to yourself through your grief process.


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