When Your Parent Dies

When was the last time you read an article dealing with the death of a parent? There is a great deal written about the death of a child or the death of a spouse, but, when you think of it, very little is written about the death of a parent.

There seems to be an unspoken hierarchy of loss in our society. By that is meant: there are some losses which generate a lot of support and some very little. Think of it. There seems to be a unanimous agreement that the loss of a child is at the top of the list. This is followed by the loss of a spouse. Most losses after that – brother, sister, mother, father, grandparents, friend, neighbour – receive very little support.

In fact, many more people are seeking support for dealing with the death or anticipated death of their parents.

What is it that makes the death of a parent so difficult? In her book Grieving: How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, Therese A. Rando discusses this loss in the chapter, “Adult Loss of a Parent.” The following summary may be helpful.

  • If parents die when they are elderly, their death may be dismissed by comments such as, “Oh well, she had a good life, didn’t she?” Comments like this make the survivors feel they don’t have reason to grieve. This is not true.
  • For many of us our parents are the most influential and powerful people; in our lives. Their death means the loss of someone whose advice we value.
  • When a parent dies, we lose someone who loves us and cares for us in a way nobody else does.
  • The death of a parent brings with it the loss of ties to our childhood and the past. Parents are often the glue that holds a family together. Their death may mean the break-up of the family.
  • When our parents die, we become the older generation in our family. A buffer between us and death is removed and we become more aware of our own inevitable death.
  • The death of our second parent means that we are orphans. The direction, guidance and security that our parents may have offered is gone forever. We can no longer go “home.”
  • Since the death of an aging parent often follows a lengthy illness or deterioration of health, family members may find themselves physically and emotionally exhausted. As a result, family members may find themselves dealing with strained relationships.

Some Guidelines for Coping

Resist the temptation to dismiss their death as “timely” or ‘inevitable”. You have experienced a significant loss and you need to take time to grieve.

Work at keeping the lines of communication open between you and your siblings. They understand more than anyone what your loss entails. Remember, that each member of the family has a personal loss and each will mourn the death of your parent for different reasons.

Find one or two close friends with whom you can talk. Ask them for permission to use them as sounding boards.

Do something to memorialize your parent. This could be a donation to a favourite charity. It could be a memorial in your family church. If possible, you may want to create a permanent memorial at his or her college or university. Perhaps you would like to plant a tree in their memory.

Although your parent is physically dead, he or she will continue to live through you. The values they gave you will affect you – for better or worse – for the rest of your life. Take what is good from them and incorporate it more fully into your life…and be thankful for the good they gave you.

Draw on the resources of your faith to sustain you. In his book, The Prophet, Kahil Gibran says to us: “And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that I may rise and seek God unencumbered.”

From an article by John Kennedy Saynor
in Genesis: New Beginnings for the Bereaved,
Vol 3, Number 1