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Healing After the Loss of a Parent

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

The loss of a parent can be life-changing – find out how to grieve and heal

Key takeaways:

  • Embrace sadness

  • Be open to complex feelings

  • Watch for signs that grief is morphing into depression

  • Don't expect a linear grief process

  • Get support

If you have found this post after losing your parent, we want to extend our condolences to you. We also want to offer you some help. The loss of a parent is one of the most significant events in your life. You will grieve, but you may also experience feelings that you weren't expecting.

When grieving your parent, you will feel sad that they are gone, but you may also find yourself processing intense elements of your relationship both during your childhood and adult years.

Accepting the loss of a parent can take a long time, and it will be a journey that could change you forever. It's up to you if you want to develop scars that harden you as a person or do the emotional work that will open you to the full potential of life's sorrows and joys. These ideas will help you recover after a parent loss.

Embrace sadness

Grief is necessary. It's not something you should run away from. Your parent deserves to be grieved, and you deserve to process your relationship with them. When sadness comes, don't look for a way to minimize it, and don't try to run away from it.

Sit with it. Allow yourself to feel it. The only way to deal with grief is by going through it. If you try to go around it or avoid it, the grief will come back in other ways – sometimes years after the loss.

Almost inevitably, you will find sadness creeping in during the down times of your day. But if you find that your commute or your shower is the only time that you cry, you may not be giving yourself enough time to grieve. Carve out time. Find time to take a long bath, go on a hike, or do whatever allows you to process your thoughts around this monumental loss.

Contrary to the myth of toxic positivity, “negative” emotions aren't bad. They're necessary, and as you work through these feelings, you will ultimately become a more peaceful, centered, and joyful person.

Be open to complex feelings

The relationships people have with their parents are complicated. Even the most loving and emotionally healthy parent may have left you with scars or regrets. This can be hard to feel when you're sad about the loss of your parent.

You may feel like you shouldn't have negative thoughts about them now that they're gone. Or you may feel guilty about the strife you created in your relationship.

Again, just let yourself feel these emotions. Sit with the anger, the regret, and the guilt. Acknowledge these emotions. They may be debilitating. That's okay. Take the day off from work, crawl into bed, and just let these emotions wash through you.

Regardless of what you believe about the afterlife, consider talking with your parent (even though they won’t talk back). Let them know how you feel. Ask for forgiveness or give them your forgiveness.

Monitor your emotional health

Both grief and depression have similar symptoms. With both, you may feel sad, have trouble sleeping, not want to eat, and feel reduced pleasure in activities. These reactions are normal when you lose a parent, but you need to watch for signs that your grief is morphing into depression.

Unfortunately, you can't measure this with time alone. There is no timeline for grief. The most intense feelings will abate after a while, and you will be able to go about your life as usual. But years or even more than a decade after the loss of your parent, you will almost certainly find yourself still feeling grief. That is perfectly normal.

If, however, you are unable to function and the grief is preventing you from living your life, you may be experiencing depression. Other signs that grief has become depression include feelings of isolation.

Don't expect a linear grief process

You're probably familiar with the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. But here's something that may surprise you. The Kubler-Ross model of grief was developed for terminally ill patients, not for people who are grieving the death of a loved one.

This model represents the journey terminally ill patients go on while accepting their diagnosis. This model is also very routed in time and culture, meaning that it doesn't apply across the board for all situations.

People often go into grief expecting these five stages, and they sometimes try to pigeonhole their emotions into these stages. Then, they get frustrated with themselves that they're not experiencing a linear process. Be aware that grief usually doesn't follow this pattern. In fact, after her grief model became popular, Kubler-Ross noted that she regretted writing about these stages in a way that became so misunderstood.

In most cases, you will feel all of these emotions. However, you may not feel them in order, and they will vary heavily depending on how your parent died and the nature of your relationship. For instance, if your parent died suddenly, you may have a lot more denial than someone whose parent died after a prolonged illness. In some cases, you may feel angry at the world that your parent exercised and ate right but still died of a heart attack. Or you may feel angry at your parent that they made poor health choices that contributed to their death. The emotions will vary depending on the situation.

Get support

Dealing with the loss of a parent can be even harder when you feel alone. Find people who can understand your situation. You may be able to turn to your siblings, your spouse, or your friends. In other cases, you may not know anyone who can empathize with your situation – this is especially true of younger people whose friends' parents are all still alive.

Look for support groups where you can talk about your grief. Whether the groups are online or in person, knowing that someone else is going through what you're experiencing can be a big salve. Also, consider reaching out to a therapist. They can talk with you about your grief and help you process aspects of your relationship that come to the forefront after your parent’s death.

At Love Discovery, we take a holistic approach to grief and wellness. We can help you process the loss of your parent in a way that helps you grow as a person and improve your relationships with the other people in your life. Everyone is unique, and we can provide you with the customized care that you need. To get support, contact us today at 305-605-LOVE or set up an appointment.

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